District 197 seeks voter approval for referendum

Money would go to technology upgrades, new building

On May 6, School District 197 will be asking voters to approve a two-question tax-levy referendum that would improve technology, expand early learning and boost the district’s security systems.

The first portion of the two-part question will ask voters to renew and increase the amount of the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District’s current technology levy, which will otherwise expire this year. If approved, the amount would be increased from its current level of $490,000 to $1.7 million per year and the money would be used to ensure students have the technology skills needed for college and careers in the 21st century. 

Levy monies would be used to maintain current technology systems but would also create up-to-date “learning spaces” and allow computing ratios of 1:2 (one device for every two students) in kindergarten through second grades, and 1:1 in third through 12th grades.

The second question on the ballot will ask voters to approve a $11.2 million building bond which would allow the district to construct an early learning center and improve security measures throughout the district’s buildings.

If voters approve both ballot questions, district officials said the tax impact on a homeowner with a home value of $200,000 would be approximately $57 per year ($4.75 per month).

Since 2012 district committees have recommended that the district expand early learning (birth to age 5) programs since studies have shown numerous academic, social and emotional benefits among children who participate in these programs as opposed to children who don’t.

In addition, the additional space would accommodate the district during an anticipated boom in growth.

While District 197 had experienced falling enrollment in the 2000’s, bottoming out around 2008, things have been improving steadily in recent years.

In her 2012 study, independent projector Hazel H. Reinhardt determined enrollment in the district would increase significantly over a 10-year period, with up to 100 new students being added to kindergarten through fourth grades; about 75 new students in fifth through eighth grades, and up to 376 high school students.

However, the district’s enrollment has risen 9.5 percent, gaining about 400 students since 2008-09 and outpacing Reinhardt’s projections.

The growth is attributed to more births, young families moving into the district and an increase in the district’s “capture rate” (the percentage of students entering the school district compared with the number of students born in the district).

In addition to the early childhood upgrades, the district is also requesting funds to make security improvements by adding surveillance cameras, remodeling the front entrances to all schools and adding features such as public address systems and lockdown buttons. The latter could effectively lock all the doors in the building with the touch of a button. 

The added security measures were recommended after district leaders met with local police chiefs and outside experts, examined the district’s current emergency plan and researched security measures in other districts.

The district will be hosting community information meetings regarding the referendum at Heritage E-STEM Magnet School on April 8 at 6:30 p.m. and at Henry Sibley High School on April 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Residents who have questions are encouraged to send email to elections@isd197.org or call the referendum hotline at 651-403-7557.

Heather Edwards can be reached at southwest@lillienews.com.


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