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UPDATED: Voters pass District 834 levy

It was a clear win for District 834 on Tuesday. 

District 834 residents voted to approve the district’s levy request on Nov. 5 with an overwhelming majority of 63 percent support, a total of 9,111 votes. 

“We think that’s a ringing endorsement for the strength of our school district,” Superintendent Corey Lunn said.

The approved referendum includes both a levy renewal of $11 million and a levy increase of $5.2 million.

The levy equates to $1,536.47 annually per student.

The $5.2 million increase, which goes into effect for eight years, reflects a 5 percent increase to the district’s budget.

Passage of the referendum now means residents will see an increase of $14 per month on a $250,000 home.

A total of 5,285 voters, or 37 percent, opposed the referendum.

“It’s always bittersweet,” Lunn said. “We’re happy and excited for the students, but we understand that this place is a burden on some families.”

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State website, a total of 14,396 votes were cast in the election, which equates to about 21 percent of the 66,748 registered voters.

District 834 includes portions of Woodbury and Afton.

A levy success

Lunn said passage of the levy with such a high percentage has been relatively unheard of within District 834.

“I don’t think we’ve ever passed a levy with more than 59 percent,” he said.

District 834 hasn’t approved a levy increase in 10 years.

Stillwater schools unsuccessfully requested a levy increase in 2011, which resulted in the district cutting more than $6 million from its budget.

Lunn said he believes this year’s success stemmed from the district’s dedication to planning ahead.

“Because we made the decisions early, we did whatever we could to get it out in front,” he said.

Additionally, the district spent considerable time communicating with the community and developing a plan for both scenarios – passage or failure.

“We worked to develop trust with the community, we worked hard at engaging the community and we identified what their dollars are being used for,” he said. “It takes a lot of people to make a levy successful.”

Implementing the plan

The $16.2 million levy will be divided amongst three key areas – 82 percent goes toward continued support for current programs, minimizing budget cuts and providing financial stability; 15 percent goes toward implementing the district’s strategic plan; and 3 percent is allocated to school safety and technology upgrades.

“Now that the levy has passed we have to prove that we deserved the trust,” Lunn said. “We have to follow through with what we said we were going to do and keep clear on the vision of what we’re going to do.

“The work now is more fun because it impacts the kids in a meaningful way.”

Lunn said the first priority will be the implementation of the district’s Bridge to Excellence strategic plan, which will include a new world language and global studies program at all the elementary schools as well as the expansion of the district’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum.

Another high priority, Lunn said, will be security enhancements, which will see alarms installed at all of the school buildings.

The district is also going to install new security technology. Cameras, intercoms and radios, will be purchased.

Additionally, construction is expected to begin this summer on new entrances at several of the district’s elementary schools in order to better control access of visitors to classroom areas.

“People are going to want to see everything done right away,” Lunn said, “but, we have to make sure that we have the time and people’s support.”

As a way to ensure levy dollars are being spent appropriately, Lunn said, the district’s financial department will begin implementing new processes to track those funds.

Preparing for the future

Lunn said he is hopeful District 834 will not need to turn to the community for support any time in the near future.

“We want to become less reliant on these things in the future,” he said. “We don’t want to come back to this.”

The district will begin looking at the way and best practices to maintain a balanced budget, Lunn said.

“The board has charged us with developing a budgeting process that won’t require these requests in the future,” he said.

Lunn said it is an exciting time to be a part of District 834.

“With this decision, the community has placed a tremendous amount of trust in district staff and has clearly shown its commitment to the students in our schools,” he said in a district e-mail. “With the community’s support we will continue to offer many of the opportunities our students have come to expect, while at the same time creating new opportunities for 21st century learning. This will ensure that the St. Croix Valley remains a destination site for not only young families, but also those looking for a vibrant and healthy community in which to live.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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