The Anoka-Hennepin School Board on July 10 approved two referendum questions that voters will weigh in on Nov. 7.
If a majority of voters mark ‘yes’ to both questions to increase per pupil investment, finance two new elementary schools and fund school facilities expansions, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $11 more in taxes per month, an annual increase of $132.
The first question asks for an increase to general education revenue by $226.20 per pupil annually for 10 years, approximately $9.5 million a year, with authorization to increase annually by the rate of inflation.
The biggest question is whether the people will support a $249 million bond referendum.
The funding is needed to built new elementary schools in Blaine and Ramaey.
Successful passage of the $249 million bond referendum would also result in additions to all five high schools in the school district, the removal of 62 portable classrooms and renovations to media centers and science classrooms in other buildings.
Chief Financial Officer Michelle Vargas said voters could not just approve the bond referendum for new elementary schools and high school expansions without saying ‘yes’ to the operating levy as well, since funding would be needed to operate the new buildings.
School Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said the 32-member Fit for the Future Task Force has been exploring this issue since early 2016 and these recommendations came after public engagement.
Heidemann said without passage of these two questions, “We would not be able to find a reasonable way to accommodate the large growth on the sod farms in Blaine, the corn fields in Ramsey and the corn fields in Dayton.”
Dayton Elementary, currently with an enrollment of 461 students, can hold an additional 200 students, according to Chuck Holden, chief operations officer for the district. There’s no plan for a new school in Dayton at this time.
Holden said security would improve if the schools had permanent classrooms attached to its existing structures as opposed to having separate portable classrooms. He noted this is his 31st year of working for the Anoka-Hennepin School District. At one point, there were about 100 portable classrooms and it took over 20 years to reduce this to the current number of 62 portable classrooms.
“I’m assuming without a bond with this impact it would take us another 20-plus years to try to phase out all the portable classrooms that we have in all our buildings. It’s just that large of a project,” Holden said.
School Board Member Bill Harvey said staff to student ratio is the greatest concern the board has heard in recent years..
“Class size from our teaching staff, from our parents, from our students continues to be one of our greatest issues and this opportunity right now seems like the right way to really assist that.”
Anoka-Hennepin School District spokesperson James Skelly said if the bond referendum does not pass, the district has no space for additional classrooms and no ability to address class size issues. He said the overall staff to student ratio would be reduced by hiring more teachers with the increased operating levy, but the School Board has not decided specifically how staffing would be allocated other than assuring it would be used in the elementary school, middle school and high school levels.
Harvey considers the referendums a wise investment at a proper time when the average age of school district buildings is 50 years old and interest rates are low and construction costs have not increased as much as predicted.
“I don’t like the idea of raising taxes, but to me we’re not raising taxes here,” Harvey said. “We’re investing in this district for the next 10, 20, 30 years.”