Voters in the White Bear Lake school district Tuesday approved a $326 million bond to fund construction projects across the district — the largest successful school bond referendum in Minnesota history.
The district expects enrollment to surge by about 2,000 students over the next decade, and school leaders are planning renovations and upgrades in every school building.
The bond also will fund the construction of a new elementary school in Hugo and allow the district to combine its split-campus high school into a single, expanded facility.
White Bear Lake was one of more than 30 school districts that asked voters to approve bond issues and take on debt for major construction projects, while more than 40 districts sought voter approval to renew or increase their local operating levies.
In another closely watched race, Worthington, Minn., voters approved three measures that will fund the construction of a new intermediate school and an addition to the high school, addressing longstanding problems with overcrowding in the southwest Minnesota district’s buildings.
Approved were bonds totaling nearly $34 million for the construction of the intermediate school and a separate plan that would allow the district to refinance $14 million to fund an addition to the high school.
The vote was the latest in a long series of school funding elections for the community, which has become larger and more racially diverse in recent decades because of population growth from immigrant groups — including a large number of unaccompanied minors from other countries.
Since 2013, Worthington voters rejected five proposed bond issues. The most recent referendum was in February, when a bond issue failed by 17 votes.
Superintendent John Landgaard said Tuesday evening that higher interest and participation from community members made the difference. “Once the facility is completed, we can move teachers out of hallways and storerooms and get them in a real classroom,” he said. “It creates that better learning environment for students.”
In Rochester, early returns showed voters backing a $171 million bond that would fund the construction of a new middle school and three new or substantially remodeled elementary schools, plus security upgrades in other buildings.
A separate $9.5 million bond that would pay for a new pool at one high school and the repurposing or upgrading of other pools in the district also was winning.
Elsewhere in the metro, voters in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district approved a levy increase that would amount to an additional $19 million in funding per year — and prevent up to $18 million in cuts that district officials had been considering.
Some of the money will be set aside for additional mental health resources for students and for school bus transportation for after-school activities.
In Burnsville, where declining enrollment has the district planning to close school buildings and make other cuts to remedy a $5.5 million shortfall, voters approved a levy increase that will raise $1.7 million to help fill the budget gap.
In the Eastern Carver County district, voters rejected a $121.7 million referendum requesting funding for a new school and bus garage, along with various maintenance and remodeling projects, as well as an increase to the district’s operating levy.
A “Vote No” group staged a campaign accusing the district of deceiving voters about the need and cost of the projects.
Opponents, including some who don’t live in the district, also linked the referendum with the district’s equity programs — efforts to provide all students with an equal chance of success.
In a YouTube video, they called equity “a toxic agenda” that benefits Muslims and students of color at the expense of white students.
District officials have said the equity plans have no connection to the referendum.
Staff writer Katy Read contributed to this report.