St. Francis School District Faces $100 Million Referendum

$107.9 million in bonding and big property tax increase hinge on Tuesday’s vote.

OAK GROVE, Minn. – Independent School District 15’s has proposed to voters a plan which would see the district borrow $107.8 million for new projects and to pay back old debts.

Two referendums are on the ballot for the district, which covers the cities of St. Francis, Bethel, East Bethel, Oak Grove, and portions of other nearby municipalities. The vote will take place on Tuesday, May 23.

School District Question 1 asks voters to approve $92.28 million of bonding for “acquisition and betterment of school facilities” reports the Anoka County Record. School District Question 2 asks voters to approve $15.52 million for the construction of a community center as an addition to St. Francis High School.

Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin voiced his opposition to the bonding measures at the May 8 city council meeting.

“My personal opinion is that there [are] a lot of people in this district that are conscious of tax increases,” Korin said. “This city has done a really good job at holding our taxes and making the right taxation count for its residents. If this referendum passes, you are looking at an increase of taxes, of at least $100 to $150 per year per home depending upon the cost of your home. In my opinion, this is something that somebody has to stand up and say enough is enough.”

Council Member Dan Denno pointed out that school district officials plan to “backfill” some of the old debt by taking on the new debt over the course of 2018 through 2020. That ostensibly would offset some of the property tax increase necessitated by the new bonding. Both questions on the ballot notify voters that a yes vote will result in increased property taxes.

School board referendums like this one are typically part of the November ballots. Independent School District 15 (ISD 15) made a strategic choice in delaying the vote until May.

“The Board decided to do it in May, because typically you wouldn’t run something like this during a presidential election, which was last November,” ISD 15 Community Education Director Lisa Rahn told the Oak Grove City Council on April 15, “Focuses are different in a presidential election, so the idea is that you want to have the focus be on the schools when you’re running a special election.”

ISD 15 is also working with a ICS Consulting to set up the referendum and run the campaign. ICS currently is not receiving payment, but if the measures pass they will receive somewhere in the range of two to 2.5 percent of the construction costs for the projects, reports the Anoka County Record.

Anders Koskinen