LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT WITH
Marvin Taylor, from Newport’s City Council
If voters approve SoWashCo’s 10-year facility plan and the coinciding bond referendum at the Special Election to be held August 9th, 2022, will this strengthen our families and communities, or will it weaken them? If the district is willing to gamble on outdated demographics projections from a 2018 pre-covid report, what else is the district gambling on with our tax dollars? After closing our oldest schools with the most diverse student populations (like Newport Elementary) and replacing them with 1000 seat fortresses, what is the future of similar schools, like Woodbury, Pullman, and Armstrong Elementary? And finally, if this $462 million “Faciltity Plan” is a band-aid renovation to fix our biggest current issue of High School overcapacity, then doesn’t that make this referendum “Phase One” of a “Two Phase” process? Jaime Kokaisel
Video and notes taken by Jaime Kokaisel of Marvin Taylor
May 24th, 2022
Published May 30th, 2022
“The reason I got into this was, about a month and a half ago, abruptly it was announced that Newport Elementary was closing. As the only member of the City Council that has kids in the school district … people started to turn to us and turn to me, and I got into fighting the largest referendum in state history now.” (0:15)
On April 21, 2022 the South Washington County School Board approved the district’s $462.6 million
- 10-year facility plan (6 to 1)
- issuing of bonds
- calling a Special Election August 9th, 2022
Marvin reads the question exactly how it will be presented to voters at the districts Special Election August 9th, 2022 (0:45)
Notes from Marvin’s speech and the corresponding Facebook material can be referenced below
Please check out Marvin Taylor’s Facebook page for more of the detailed charts he has put together.
In 2019 White Bear Lake voters passed the largest referendum, which was $326 million. SoWashCo’s requested $462 million bond referendum is $130 million (plus) more than the largest current referendum. (1:22)
How did we get to this point? (1:36)
2015 was last major building referendum before this. Question 1: $96 million PASSED to build Oltman Middle School. Question 2: $46 million FAILED for Elementary and High Schools. Today, seven years later, the plan for Elementary and High School has now increased 10 fold.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL enrollment increased 400 students in seven years. The district added 1300 seats in that time (between Oltman and Valley Crossing). “We’ve added 900 more seats than we’ve added students in that time.”
“MIDDLE SCHOOL, where we’ve spent $96 million, we’ve only increased by 134 students in seven years.”
HIGH SCHOOL is where we know we’re at with crowding. This is where the growth has been. You’re seeing an increase of over 500 students, and there has been no added capacity in recent years.
$30 per month. How to think about that cost? (3:05)
The district wants to break it down in terms of a price per a house per month. One thing they don’t do is to compare to other districts.
“Other districts like to compare themselves to SoWashCo Schools.”
In general, we’re approaching double what the East Metro has in voter approved levies.
Short term spike in residential construction (4:16)
SoWashCo’s submitted report to MDE says they are forecasting out to 2057.
“They will pay down the bonds gradually, but as you pay them down the plan is to issue new facility maintenance bonds. There is no plan to bring the tax rate down after we build.”
8000 new homes, 3500 students, 15 schools over capacity (4:54)
If this is the critical goal we need to meet, how do we do that in a cost effective way?
“At the elementary school level, the cost per seat added is over $200,000!”
The net effect is, you are only adding on 926 seats for almost $200 million. Pretty staggering amount! By closing Newport and Crestview Elementary you lose 1,000 seats of student capacity.
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How much do BUILDINGS translate into STUDENTS? (6:42)
2000 housing starts from 2018 to 2020, and yet SoWashCo has had a grand total of 28 students gained in three years. The housing growth isn’t translating into student growth in SoWashCo Public Schools.
Schools that have grown and increased enrollment: Woodbury Leadership Academy (Charter School) : 48%, New Life Academy (Private School) : 34% at elementary level, Saint Ambrose (Private School) : 11%. Private/Charter gain of 279 students. District loss of 147 students.
“It’s not buildings that are driving the change. It’s peoples choices are driving all the change at the moment.”
Use of outdated Davis Report data from 2018 (8:48)
“In those elementary schools which were supposed to see the most growth, combined they have actually seen their enrollment go down 67 students.”
“In a span of three years (since 2018) the projections are off by 1000.”
There is a diverging of Facility projections versus Budget projections. By 2026-27, the Facility forecast is 2000 students higher than the Budget’s forecast. The two departments are not even in agreement amongst themselves.
The size of our schools … How is this plan going to change the school district? (10:50)
Looking at Elementary Schools, the average capacity of the six largest schools at 983, approaching the size of middle school.
“If the enrollment doesn’t increase at the elementary level you’re going to have school closures. Other small schools will be closed. They are not going to close the big schools … issues of walkability, busing … whether schools are centers of communities will be a much bigger challenge moving forward.”
Question by Kelly Fenton in the audience (12:57)
“Isn’t that the ultimate goal of Education MN. They want the schools and the campuses to be the one stop community for all to service to students.”
Newport Elementary (14:20)
Newport is one of the older communities. The school in town has been there since 1860.
“It’s the smallest school in the district in the smallest community in the district. We’ve had to fight off school closures many times in the past.”
Currently Newport is the most diverse school in the district by a decent margin. It has the most English learners, and (alongside Crestview) it has the largest share of lower income students and those receiving free and reduced lunches.
A lot of SoWashCo’s Western edged schools (Woodbury, Pullman, Crestview, Armstrong) hold the lower income, more diverse student populations.
“I am concerned about how this plan leaves these schools behind.”
Test Score Results (15:39)
“What has been achieved at Newport that I think makes it particularly noteworthy is the achievements at that school.”
This Title One school has a lot of resources, and they use those resources.
Of the five peer schools (Newport, Woodbury, Pullman, Crestview and Armstrong), Newport had the highest average MCA Math and Reading test scores from 2019-21. Reading is an area Newport prides itself on.
“We all know the pandemic took a toll on learning … One of the 16 schools in the district saw its reading scores increase during the pandemic. And that was Newport. I think that’s a sign of the teachers.”
An end on this Note (17:11)
A School board member said “Newport is not a functional school.”
“When I consider this remark in the relation of what is being achieved at Newport, I am angry. What greater function does public education have than leveling the playing field?”
This video was recorded on May 24th, 2022 at the Senate District 47 Republicans meeting. http://www.mngop47.com/ I always enjoy attending these meetings because of the great guest speakers. I want to thank them, and I want to thank Marvin for accepting the invitation to speak this month. I hope he speaks to many more groups, because it’s a great way to communicate the issues in a relatable fashion!
I will be voting NO to this Bond Referendum. When making your decision, I urge you to consider the many counter arguments. The district will pour a large amount of money and resources into marketing, glamorizing, designing, and alarming the public into trusting that the district knows best and cares most. Mixed messages and the conflicting use of policy has highlighted the districts inability to explain their inconsistencies. I am referring, in part, to the recently passed Racial Equity and Inclusion policy, the usefulness of which has been make clear through repeated suppression on one side of the court and negligence on the other.
A TWO PART SERIES