South Washington County school district voters will consider a new multimillion-dollar proposal this fall to add capacity in the growing district after rejecting a much larger request from the district last year.
This time, instead of the $463 million ballot question posed in 2022 that would have added new school buildings, the district is asking for about $201 million split across two ballot questions.
The first ballot question is a $161 million referendum that would pay for extensive renovations to accommodate more students at East Ridge High and Oltman Middle schools. The second ballot question would provide $40 million to add classroom space in several elementary schools.
District officials anticipate enrollment in the metro-area district of about 19,000 to grow by more than 3,000 students over the next decade. But voters rejected the 2022 proposal's steep price tag and the fact that its passage would have meant the closing of a popular elementary school that serves a high proportion of students of color — sending the district in search of other options.
"Those needs have certainly not gone away," Superintendent Julie Nielsen said. The new plan going before voters in November "is the result of us gathering feedback and community input."
The South Washington County school district's construction measure is one of 33 education-related ballot questions Minnesotans will decide in the November election. Districts are asking for a combined $1.6 billion.
Among the major measures, the Mankato district is asking voters for $105 million to pay for security upgrades, expanded access to early childhood programs and several renovations at Mankato West High. Rochester district officials are pitching a 10-year, $100 million measure to pay for technological upgrades and ongoing expenses, including cybersecurity upgrades and access to online learning programs.
In the Osseo district, officials are requesting $223 million to build a new elementary school in Maple Grove. The measure, if approved, would also pay for secure entrances at Maple Grove, Osseo and Park Center high schools. District officials also say the money will pay for upgrades to classrooms in every school, about 35 in all.
"Every school will have learning upgrades that will work for our students with differing needs," School Board Chair Jacquelene Mosqueda-Jones said.
She's particularly interested in the district's efforts to provide outdoor classroom space at every elementary school. Many families that have moved to the district in the last few years live in apartment buildings, Mosqueda-Jones said, with few opportunities to explore the outdoors.
"This is an equity measure," Mosqueda-Jones said. "This is a chance to make sure we have consistency and coherence across the district to make sure there isn't a difference between one school and another school."
Osseo officials have two more informational sessions planned. The first is Tuesday at Osseo High; another is scheduled for Wednesday at Maple Grove High. Both begin at 6 p.m.
Seeking a solution
In South Washington County, the new construction measure also includes security upgrades for several high schools and middle schools across the district.
If voters reject this round of construction measures, district officials say they'll have to get creative with school schedules and grade configurations. Administrators haven't discussed what those plans might be, but Nielsen said the district may consider altering elementary schools to add sixth-grade classes and move ninth-graders into the middle schools.
They would also consider shuffling school boundaries.
"We're really at a point where our solution is to add on and hopefully keep the boundaries as-is knowing how difficult it is to change high school boundaries, in particular," Nielsen said.
Officials estimate that a homeowner whose property is worth the district median, about $405,000, will pay an additional $108 per year. The district is hosting two more information sessions on the construction measures.
The first will occur Oct. 11 via Zoom. The second will be Oct. 12 at the district service center in Cottage Grove, 7362 East Point Douglas Rd. S., at 6 p.m.