Anoka-Hennepin approves referendum questions

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.

By Olivia Alveshere
[email protected]

Anoka-Hennepin administrators presented two referendum questions to the School Board June 26 for a first reading.
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 second question is a larger ask at $249 million.
Projects outlined in the second question include the construction of new schools, additions at various schools to replace portable classrooms and address space and safety issues, and construction of secured entrances at schools.
Land in Blaine and Ramsey, where the district is seeing the most growth, has already been identified for two new elementary schools.
Sixty-two portable classrooms serve thousands of students daily throughout the district and are a security threat, according to Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden.
Locating school entrances near administrative offices is a goal bond dollars could help fulfill.
Question two is contingent on the operating levy passing.
“If we were to only pass the bond, we would not have the money to operate those (new) buildings,” Chief Financial Officer Michelle Vargas said. “The teachers come with the kids based on the ratio, but that overhead staff does not.”
Additional dollars from the operating levy could help reduce class sizes, according to Vargas.
The operating levy would cause the owner of an average home in the district, one valued at $200,000, to see a tax increase of approximately $5 monthly, $60 annually.
The same homeowner would see taxes rise approximately $8.25 monthly, $99 annually, if the bond levy is successful.
“If both questions are passed, the board will reduce the long-term facilities maintenance levy by at least $3.3 million,” Vargas said. Such a reduction would cause the total tax impact for the owner of a $200,000 home to be around $11 monthly, $132 annually.
Superintendent David Law praised Holden and Vargas for their work to develop questions that balance the needs of the district with reasonable tax increases for residents.
“We’ve taken a lot of input and heard a lot from our community,” Holden said.
A 32-member task force began grappling with enrollment projections and facility needs in the district in early 2016.
After the task force recommended the district take “swift action” to present a referendum to voters, administration began taking the necessary steps to do so.
Community meetings were held in May at each of the district’s five traditional high schools to outline anticipated projects and solicit community feedback.
“Our public told us repeatedly … the buildings are in great shape. And they are, but they need upgrades and they need improvements,” Holden said.
To meet deadlines for questions to appear on the ballot Nov. 7, the board must submit materials to the Minnesota Department of Education no later than July 20.
The School Board will be asked to approve ballot language at its next meeting, July 10.