Voters in South Washington County approve bond referendums and tech levy; elect Dols, Patnaik and Clarke to board

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, voters in the South Washington County School District decisively rejected a historic $462 million bond request by a nearly two-to-one ratio.

On Tuesday, voters in the district approved a $200 million, two-question bond referendum to fund improvements at the schools and approved a request to revoke the district’s current $2.8 million technology levy and replace it with a $5 million one.

“We know this was a big ask for voters in hard economic times,” said Superintendent Julie Nielsen. “We are extremely grateful for our community’s support to address safety, security, growth and technology projects in our schools.”

In a tight race for school board, incumbents Melinda Dols and Simi Patnaik and newcomer Ryan Clarke prevailed. Dols and Patnaik each received 16 percent of the vote; Clarke got 14 percent.

The first question, which passed by a 57 percent margin, asked voters to support a $160 million bond referendum for safety and security enhancements, expansions and renovation at secondary schools.

The second question, which passed by a 55 percent margin, asked voters to support a $40 million bond referendum for additions at four elementary schools and the construction of more bathrooms at five 1960s-era elementary schools.

The passage of the second bond question was contingent on the passage of the first question.

The district will begin design work for buildings in two phases with the goal of completing all projects within the next three years, Nielsen said.

The sale of bonds is the only method for school districts to raise enough funds for new construction, renovations and improvements to address student growth.

The third question on the ballot passed with 52 percent of the vote. It asked voters to revoke the district’s current $2.8 million technology levy and renew it at a higher amount. The $5 million levy, which is proposed for 10 years, will create “a dedicated funding stream for technology-related expenses, including cybersecurity, instructional software, business software and technology repair,” Nielsen said.

The measures will add about $9 a month, or $111 a year, to the property tax bill of a $409,000 house, the median value for homes in the district.

The district, which has 18,790 students, includes all or parts of Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, Afton and Denmark and Grey Cloud Island Townships. Another 500 students are expected in grades K-12 by the start of the 2027 school year.

School board

Eleven candidates ran for three seats on the school board; school board member Louise Hinz decided not to run for re-election.

Dols, Patnaik and Clarke were the top three vote-getters. Also running: Fekadu Kassa Ayichew, Chad Borseth, Priscilla Kathryn Dimbo, Randall Johnson, Jaime Kokaisel, Anthony Mahmood, Satonia Moore and Molly Schaefer.

Clarke, Kokaisel and Mahmood ran as a slate of candidates and have been endorsed by Minnesota Parents Alliance, a conservative group formed last year to push back against K-12 initiatives that promote racial equity and support for LGBTQ students; Dols, Moore and Patnaik were endorsed by Education Minnesota.

Clarke defeated Moore, the next highest vote-getter, by just 190 votes.

According to Washington County, 30.5 percent of the school district’s 71,654 registered voters voted in the election.

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