District 197 special election is May 6

District 197 Superintendent Nancy Allen-Mastro presents information on why the schools are asking for a renewal and increase in its technology levy and a $11.4 million building levy to upgrade facilities. The school board voted unanimously in February to put the two questions on the ballot in a special election, which is May 6. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Levy, bond would increase student access to technology, upgrade facilities

Third-graders assembled Legos last week at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, building a robot they can then program on a computer to perform certain tasks.

“They live in a digital world,” said Shannon Lawson, a teacher at Somerset Elementary. “If we don’t meet that at school, they won’t want to be there.”

The kids were among more than a dozen students demonstrating how technology can be used in and outside the classroom at an informational meeting April 22 on the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area School District’s special election, which is May 6.

Two questions will be on the ballot next week.

Voters will consider:

• Renewing and increasing the school district’s designated technology tax levy to $1.7 million annually for 10 years, as the current $490,000 annual levy is set to expire in 2014

• A request for a $11.2 million building bond for an early-learning center and security upgrades

The technology levy would cost $43 annually in property taxes for households at the $200,000 median home value. The building bond would cost another $14.

The total property-tax impact would then be $57.

‘Digital learning’

The boost for technology would bring “digital learning” into more classrooms, meaning students would have access to tablets or laptops in class to view educational resources online, such as videos, research and news.

Lawson said the new gadgets have already been tools to motivate and engage some students with “hands-on learning,” while actively working towards certain learning standards.

The levy would make that access more equitable, according to Superintendent Nancy Allen-Mastro.

“We want them to take that tool and do things they can’t do with a paper and pencil,” she said during a presentation.

The bond would also help the district simply maintain its current technology systems.

“Right now, we’re hanging on by our fingertips in some ways,” Allen-Mastro said.

Upgrading facilities

Of the $11.2 million building bond, $3.2 million would be used for security upgrades, such as more lock-down buttons, putting security cameras in every school and constructing secure entrances. About $7.5 million of the building bond would construct an early-learning center next to the Heritage E-STEM Magnate school.

Allen-Mastro said the district tried to find room in other schools for the program (it’s currently in the elementary schools), but enrollment projections already put most facilities at capacity in the next few years.

Enrollment declined from about 2004 to 2009, but has drastically increased in recent years, especially at the elementary level.

From the 2008-2009 school year, K-4 enrollment jumped from 1,640 students to 1,971 this school year, an uptick of more than 20 percent. Overall enrollment has increased by more than 9 percent in that time, according to the district’s numbers.

“This is really what’s driving our need for that added space in early learning,” Allen-Mastro said.


Allen-Mastro said one of the district’s goals is to help students get ready for college and careers. Part of that is to teach kids to work together and solve problems, skills often learned using technology to build, design or program something.

“The workplace does not want people who don’t apply high-level thinking to tasks,” she said.

Jim Nyquist, who’s been in the community for around 50 years and had three kids graduate from Sibley, said he doesn’t mind spending an extra $50 annually on schools.

He said he’d like engineering, math and science pushed in District 197 classrooms, because that’s where kids will get jobs. He said test scores in these subjects need to go up.

“I’m absolutely astonished the technology that’s accessible to high school students,” he said at the meeting. “I hope they’re taking advantage of it.”

Polling locations can be found at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us. Learn more by calling a hotline at 651-403-7557, emailing elections@isd197.org, or visiting www.isd197.org/referendum (where there’s absentee voting information).

Voters can register to vote, or check if they’re registered, at https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at  twitter.com/KRobyNews.


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