Dist. 11 board examines referendum timeline

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Following recommendations by the Fit For the Future Task Force Jan. 23, Anoka-Hennepin staff drew up a tentative timeline of steps to be taken if the district intends to have the community vote on a bond referendum proposal in November.

The task force, a group of 32 parents, community members and district staff members, started meeting in April to study community growth and enrollment projections, capacity of schools, staffing ratios, future program needs, school boundaries, transportation, condition of schools, technology infrastructure and finance.

After touring schools and hearing from a number of presenters, the task force developed findings and nine recommendations, among them purchasing land and building elementary and middle schools in the fastest growing areas of the district, which the task force identified as Blaine, Dayton and Ramsey, and taking “swift action” to present a referendum to voters.

The timeline administrators developed in the weeks following the task force’s presentation lays out a number of important dates and deadlines before Election Day 2017.

“It was a little bit overwhelming to see how fast we need to get going,” said Michelle Vargas, chief financial officer.

The School Board reviewed the timeline for the first time in a work session Feb. 13.

According to the timeline, bond and levy options will be shared with the School Board at its April 24 meeting.

Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden is confident preliminary design plans for elementary schools in Blaine and Ramsey and additions at high schools, so that portable classrooms can be removed, another task force recommendation, can be ready by then.

“Past that, it gets a little more broad-based, I think,” Holden said, noting task force recommendations around 21st century learning spaces and special education touch buildings across the district. More guidance will be needed from the board to address those recommendations.

“All of this work won’t be able to happen simultaneously,” Holden said.

By June 26, the board would hear a first reading of the resolution to call for a referendum with specific questions outlined at that time.

A ballot would be approved by the board July 10 so that it can be submitted to county auditors and the Minnesota Department of Education by Aug. 25, the timeline states.

After that, communications with the public ramp up.

Soliciting community feedback is set to occur in September and October. How that community feedback is obtained may look different than it did in 1999, the last time the district put a new referendum before voters.

In 1999, a referendum for $165.62 per pupil unit was passed to build and maintain Oxbow Creek Elementary School in Champlin, Rum River Elementary School in Andover and Andover High School. The referendum increases with inflation and brings in about $176.09 per pupil unit today, generating approximately $7.2 million annually. It expires after the 2017-2018 school year.

Holden anticipates hearings may take place at all five traditional high schools this time around, and with many evolutions made in the ways people communicate these last 18 years, hearings will likely be more than a “typical white board, PowerPoint presentation on the stage.”

“I’m more interested right now in what gets us to the bond questions,” Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann. “The board’s going to want some community feedback before we come with the full question.”

Board Member Marci Anderson added that the board technically has not decided to ask a question yet, though they have reviewed the Fit For the Future Task Force’s report, which clearly recommends they do so.

May could be a time for some more informal community information sessions, Superintendent David Law suggested.

A community survey will provide the board with additional insight, according to Jim Skelly, director of communication and public relations.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Heidemann said.

[email protected]