Espe, Ulm encouraged by high rate of referendums passed by school districts

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe and School Board Chair Deb Ulm are encouraged by the 88 percent passage rate of school bonding referendums across the state on Nov. 5.

Fifty of the 57 school districts operating levy referendums passed that day. But what may be even better news for the Princeton School District is that 23 of the 26 districts with bonding and capital lease referendums had at least one of their referendum questions approved.

The closest school district to have such success was Cambridge-Isanti, where voters approved 2,083 to 1,897 the district’s request to bond for $10 million to fund its most critical security, repair and maintenance needs at its school buildings.

“It gives me hope that, I believe, the people feel more comfortable investing in schools,” Espe said about the success rate of referendums in the state.

The results of the bonding referendums across the state come as the Princeton School Board is in the process of coming up with a bonding proposal for next May that would make improvements in Princeton school facilities. No specific bonding proposal has yet been determined. However, a report last week on what seven citizen criteria committees found in looking at the district’s facility needs points toward the crowded and aging South Elementary (kindergarten through second grade) building being a high priority for action.

No committee came out and said, “Build a new building.” Each of the committees were charged mainly with responding to the old expression, “Just the facts, please.” The different committees laid out what they found to be facility improvement needs and what it would cost to just do repairs at South Elementary without even replacing the portable classrooms, and they did offer what they thought are priorities and what might be the best use of taxpayer funds.

“I hope it means our people may be in support of our schools as a facilities project,” Espe added about the school facility referendums passing throughout the state last week.

“It sure is good news,” Ulm agreed. “I don’t know exactly what it means, if people are feeling a little more confident in the economy or they are in more support of education, I am not sure. It gives me more hope. It makes it (the passing of a bond referendum next spring in the Princeton district) more possible.”

Ulm added that the process the Princeton School Board has set up to prepare a referendum is being done slowly to make sure it is thorough.

Past two building referendums failed 

Not enough Princeton District voters supported the past two building referendums the district presented. The last one, in 2007, asked if voters would OK bonding for $44 million to build a new K-2 school, plus spend $10 million for air quality improvements at the high school and approve a $603,000 operating levy referendum on the same ballot. All three questions failed.

Three years earlier, in 2004, a referendum question on school construction and two other education-funding questions failed. The one question that year sought authority to bond for $89.8 million to build a school for preschool through second grade, build a new swimming pool and remodel North Elementary. Another question sought a levy to add $290 per pupil unit for each of 10 years to operate the new school facilities if the school-construction question passed. The third question sought a general operating levy that would have added $500 per pupil unit for 10 years.