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Voters to decide $462 million question August 9

Average homeowner to see $305 increase in tax bill under plan

By Joseph Back

It’s the $462 million question: whether to fund or not fund a long-range facilities plan passed by the South Washington County School Board in April, pending the outcome of an August 9 bond referendum put before district residents.

The facilities plan, which saw six out of seven board members sign off on it Eric Tessmer the lone exception) amidst considerable turnout from Newport Elementary parents, goes before voters August 9 for their approval or otherwise.

Should it pass, change will come, with Pine Hill and Crestview getting new buildings while Newport Elementary will be absorbed into Woodbury, Cottage Grove, and Bailey respectively, as partial referendum fallout. Also in the fallout, will be boundary changes for those affected by attendance boundary changes, as students must move no later than 2025 if they find their attendance boundary adjusted.

Should the referendum not pass, on the other hand, the next chance for a long-range facilities plan to come before voters will be February 2023, in terms modified but not demolished—all of which raises a basic question: how much will voters pay out monetarily or otherwise in a quid pro quo (“this for that”) exchange should the bond referendum go through August 9?

That could depend on where and what type of dwelling you live in. The average homeowner for South Washington County—defined as owning a $300,000 dwelling place—will see an annual tax bill increase of $305 per official district figures. A $400,000 home would see a $420 increase in their tax bill if the bond question passes, while a $500,000 home would see a $527 increase. For those homes valued at $200,000, meanwhile, the annual tax bill increase is projected to be $191.

But while the tax impact is measured relatively easily in dollars and cents, confusion abounds with regard to district projections and future enrollment, with the district wanting to make one thing clear: the Davis Demographics report of 2018 and student enrollment projections, are not the same.

“The report is irrelevant to current planning,” District communications director

See VOTERS Page 2

District superintendent Julie Nielsen (right) was on hand with district finance director Dan Pyan at the July 20 Cottage Grove Council meeting to present the upcoming bond referendum to council members and viewers. Image from CottageGroveMN YouTube channel. VOTERS

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Pepe Barton sought to clarify recently of a potential misunderstanding on how the district arrives at its student generation numbers looking forward. “The Davis Demographics report was a demographics report, not a report of projected enrollment,” Barton said. “We are only using the formula for student generation rates, not the report.”. So how does the district generate its enrollment figures exactly? Barton shared a quick summary.

“Our planning for projecting student enrollment is based around each city’s comprehensive plan and signed contracts for housing developments in each city,” he said of the district. Taking assessor data and current student number to make student generation rates, the housing development situation is just one piece of how the district plans for future enrollment. Also factoring into the projections according to Barton are the use of current kindergarten numbers and historical birth rates to calculate kindergarten classes, current student numbers with historic numbers and student mobility rates to apply to current students. Taking all three pieces together (kindergarten, current students, and planned residential development), the district then uses these figures to project how many students to expect in terms of future district enrollment.

Not everyone is on board with the district’s long-range plans or financial projections, however. Among them is a group called Demand a Better Plan 833, chaired by Marvin Taylor. With Newport set to close under the long-range facilities plan parents have been busy, enlisting social media, signs, and a website to mobilize in opposition to the long-range facilities plan that would close their only elementary school and covert this into an early learning center.

With the referendum to decide building bonds set for August 9, the verdict is still out on how to move forward in ISD 833—but maybe not for long.

July 27, 2022