St. Francis School District referendum May 23

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.

St. Francis School District residents head to the polls Tuesday, May 23, to vote in a special election.

Two referendum questions will be on the ballot: The first asks whether the school district should be authorized to issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $92.28 million for acquisition and betterment of school facilities. The second question, contingent on the first question passing, asks voters whether the district should be authorized to issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $15.52 million for acquisition and betterment of school facilities, including the addition of a four-station community activities center at St. Francis High School.

These questions have been in the works for several years with aging facilities and diminishing school pride, according to St. Francis School Board Chairperson Mike Starr.

Starr can point to many fixtures in the schools that haven’t changed since he graduated from St. Francis High School in 1972.

“It does cost money to do something, and we are looking at the community to help support us for this big endeavor,” Starr said. “And this is going to be a big one. It’s not going to be taking care of the needs for the next five years. This is 25, 30 years out.”

Bond dollars would bring facilities up to snuff, replacing dated infrastructure and upgrading interior finishes in nearly all school buildings, administrators have stated.

“The maintenance needs that exist within our facilities are very extensive and expensive,” said Lisa Rahn, director of Community Education who is leading work on the bond referendum in the district.

Two key projects bond dollars would make possible are the removal of portable classrooms at East Bethel Community School and the Lifelong Learning Center and construction of a 10-classroom addition to St. Francis Elementary School so that fourth- and fifth-graders currently attending St. Francis Middle School could return to the elementary building. A four-classroom addition at East Bethel Community School would create capacity for portables to be removed there, according to Rahn.

Additionally, if question one passes, reorganized spaces for activities and special education programming would be realized, as would safety and security improvements, including the creation of secure entries at all buildings.

Alleviating on-site traffic flow and pedestrian safety concerns will also be able to be checked off of the district’s to-do list if question one passes, as will a number of other projects.

The second question’s passage would provide for a four-station gym floor with an elevated walking track and other amenities at the high school.

“It is going to be open up to the community,” Rahn said, though details have not been finalized.

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 roughly $102 annually if questions one and two both pass. If the referendum is voted down, taxes will decrease dramatically with the loss of that debt service levy. The same $150,000 home would see taxes cut by more than 50 percent with a $148 drop.

“This bond would backfill that amount,” Rahn said.

A tax impact calculator is available at www.stfrancis.k12.mn.us.

If the referendum fails, expect the district to propose another, Rahn said. “We would gear up for another vote.”

If the referendum passes, the community would be engaged in a design process for about nine months, Rahn said. Construction would likely begin in the spring or summer of 2018 with work extending approximately 2 1/2 years.

“It’s important to have pride in our schools, to have pride in our buildings,” Starr said. “A good school district has a good community. A good community has a good school district, and we work hand in hand to be successful out here.”

Polls will open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 8 p.m. May 23.

Voters living in Precinct 1 include St. Francis School District residents living in Bethel, Nowthen and St. Francis, as well as Athens, Spencerbrook and Stanford townships. Precinct 1 voters will cast their ballots at the Central Services Center, 4115 Ambassador Blvd. NW, St. Francis.

Voters living in Precinct 2 are St. Francis School District residents of Andover and Oak Grove. They will vote at the Lifelong Learning Center, 18900 Cedar Drive NW, Oak Grove.

Precinct 3 voters hail from portions of East Bethel and Linwood Township falling within School District 15 boundaries. They will cast ballots at the East Bethel Senior Center, 2241 221st Ave. NE, East Bethel.

For more information about the upcoming vote, visit www.stfrancis.k12.mn.us.

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