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The timing of school bond referendum

According to Minneapolis Star-Tribune (1/2, Relerford), "The Orono School District's $39.4 million bond referendum scheduled for Feb. 12 has sparked controversy among residents in recent weeks because of the timing and amount of the request."

Orono officials said the additional money they are seeking would pay for interior and exterior improvements at several schools. If the referendums are approved, the bond will be paid back by increased property tax over the next 20 years. An owner of a $300,000 home would need to pay additional about $125 a year.

It is not easy for residents to buy in such ideas. In November 2005, a proposed $31 million bond in the district for similar upgrades was rejected by voters. The following November, Orono district residents approved a $500,000-a-year operating levy that saved 11 teaching positions. In this year, while Orono was still preparing its proposal, neighboring districts of Westonka and Delano had weighed in on levy and bond referendums on Nov. 6. Westonka voters approving an operating levy while Delano voters rejected two of three spending proposals.

Interestingly, during the 2005 referendum, levy opponents in Orono hired an Iowa-based consultant who has helped some nearby communities defeat several proposals of levy extension or increased expenditure. It is unclear whether residents get help from outside experts this time, but their suspicion of timing seem to be justified by empirical studies -- it has been found that a referendum has a higher chance to be passed if the voter turnout is low. With a concern that many of their neighbors will be out of town in early February or could forget to request absentee ballots, some residents are afraid that school officials may pick the unusual timing as "an attempt to sneak it."

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