Angry parents walked out of the South Washington County School Board meeting Thursday night after board members approved a plan to close Newport Elementary School.
Council members voted 6-1 to approve a controversial 10-year-old facility package that district officials say is necessary to deal with overcrowding, future growth and student needs. Council member Eric Tessmer was the only dissenting vote.
The board unanimously approved a resolution for a referendum on the $462 million bond to be presented to voters via a special election on Aug. 9. If passed, the referendum would be the largest school referendum ever approved in Minnesota.
The school district’s plan has come under fire recently because it calls for the closure of Newport Elementary, the district’s most diverse school. The plan is for Newport to become a center for early learning.
INCREASE IN STUDENTS SEEN
Deputy Superintendent Kristine Schaefer, who presented the plan to the board, said the district expects student numbers to increase over the next decade. Within 10 years, she says, the school district plans 8,000 new housing units, 3,500 new students and 15 overcapacity schools.
Many of the proposed improvements are to take place at the district’s three high schools – East Ridge, Woodbury and Park. Among the items on the agenda: the construction of additions to the classrooms; expansion of cafeterias and kitchens; creation of a multipurpose space for e-learning; renovation of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) spaces, and site redevelopment of Park and Woodbury Secondary Schools to improve circulation and increase
Plans also call for the construction of a new Pine Hill Elementary School building on the Cottage Grove site. At the current school, which was built in the 1960s, staff had to convert a closet into a makeshift occupational therapy space, Schaefer said. Only two bathrooms serve the entire school, she said.
According to the plan, South Washington Alternative High School would be moved to the current Crestview Elementary building in Cottage Grove. Plans call for the construction of a new Crestview Elementary building at a central district location. A new district service center would be built on the new Crestview Elementary campus to house support staff, community education, registration services and space for meetings and professional development, Schaefer said.
If the bond referendum passes, district officials said owners of a home worth $300,000, the price of an average home in the district, could expect to pay $23 more in property taxes per month, that’s $280 more per year.
In 2015, district voters approved funding for the construction of a new middle school, which opened as Oltman Middle School in 2018, but rejected plans to improve high schools and several elementary schools. . Most recently, the facility planning process was put on hold for a year due to the pandemic. The process restarted in March 2021.
Board members had no comment on the plan other than a brief introductory comment from board chair Sharon Van Leer.
“It’s been a very comprehensive process over the course of four years,” Van Leer said. “We had the opportunity to ask questions, obtain collaboration and seek clarification throughout this process.”