St. Francis School District calls for bond referendum, special election

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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.

The St. Francis School Board has ordered a special election May 23 for residents to vote on two bond questions, one in an amount not to exceed $92.28 million and a second in an amount not to exceed $15.52 million.

The district intends to use $92.28 million to improve all school facilities, with the exception of Sandhill Center. An additional $15.52 million would allow for “acquisition and betterment of school facilities, including a four-station community activities center addition to the high school.”

The School Board Feb. 27 unanimously approved a resolution calling for a special election less than three months later.

Though specific designs have not been finalized, the $92.28 million bond would finance many different projects, including updates to aging infrastructure and interior finishes, according to Lisa Rahn, Director of Community Education who is leading work on the bond referendum for the district.

Reorganized spaces for activities and special education programming are in the works, as are districtwide safety and security improvements, including the creation of secure entries at all buildings, Rahn said.

Ensuring facilities are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly the high school football field, and alleviating on-site traffic flow and pedestrian safety concerns are also included in plans, according to Rahn.

Media centers are set to be redone, and East Bethel Community School will see additional restroom facilities, Rahn said.

Improvements will allow for the district’s four portable classrooms, two each at the Lifelong Learning Center and East Bethel Community School, to be removed, Rahn said.

A 10-classroom addition is planned at St. Francis Elementary School, which will enable fourth- and fifth-grade students currently attending St. Francis Middle School to return to the elementary building.

“It’s not wants,” Board Chairperson Mike Starr said. “It’s our needs.”

It is his hope that investing in buildings will draw students back to the St. Francis School District

According to Superintendent Troy Ferguson, 1,132 students living within district boundaries this year did not enroll in St. Francis schools.

“We’re working hard to provide more opportunities for our kids so that we’ll be attractive,” Ferguson said. “We want them here – they’re our kids.”

The second question, contingent on the first question passing, will bring a four-station gym floor with an elevated walking track to the high school.

“Our gym space, especially in the winter, we don’t have enough,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have a place for our community to gather, for our kids to gather after school.”

With an annual debt service levy of $3.4 million coming off this fall’s tax levy, the net tax impact on a $150,000 home would be $102 annually if questions one and two both pass. Question one alone would see a hike in school district taxes of approximately $53 annually on the same home, $4.40 per month, according to Rahn.

A tax impact calculator and additional information will be available on the district website next week, she said.

Board Member Sean Sullivan sees the bonds providing long-term improvements.

“These are 20-, 25-year fixes,” he said. “We’re behind a lot of our neighboring districts. We’re playing catch-up.”

Voters living within the St. Francis School District were last asked to vote on bond questions in 2006. Two passed and two failed.

Voters approved $10.7 million to add 18 classrooms to the high school and repair ceilings, floors, roofs, parking lots and more. An additional $29.5 million to build a new elementary school and physical education wing at the high school was voted down.

This time around, “we’ve tried to look at the future for our students,” Board Member Amy Kelly said.

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  • Baffled in Bethel

    When are educational opportunities going to improve? Schoolboard members are comparing SFHS to St. Michael and other newer schools. Unless you build a new school, this will not be an apples to apples comparison.
    It’s not the status of the gym, or football field, that is causing 1000+ students to look for an education in other locations. It’s the lack of challenging class opportunities and choices that are leading to students to make those decisions.