Eden Prairie voters approved the $39.9 million Designing Pathways project that will fund construction, security upgrades and classroom changes to all eight of the district’s schools.
After three years of planning, voters passed the measure 69.5 percent (3155 votes) to 30.5 percent (1382 votes) on May 14, according to Eden Prairie Schools Communications Director Brett Johnson.
“I just want to thank the community for their support,” Superintendent Josh Swanson told Eden Prairie News. “It’s a great night for our kids.”
A total of 4,537 people voted in the election, which Johnson estimated was on the low end of the 15-30 percent of eligible voters the district predicted would vote in the referendum. The district worked hard to get the word out about the referendum, he said, but turnout for a May vote is generally low. The district used multiple communication platforms to encourage residents to vote, from paper fliers and emails to webinars and text reminders.
The district will now be allowed to issue $39.9 million in bonds for construction and materials to implement Designing Pathways. The tax impact will be around $6.50 a month on a $397,400 home, the referendum’s website says.
Construction will take several years to complete, with new classrooms ready to roll for the start of the 2021 school year, district officials have said.
Designing Pathways will move sixth-graders, currently housed at the district’s elementary schools, to into Central Middle School and move preschoolers into the elementary schools. There will be construction for additional classroom, cafeteria, gym and vehicle space to accommodate the changes, along with a new performing arts center at Central Middle School. The plan came with a push for greater academic choices, through growing levels of what’s called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at the elementary grades. It evolves into “21st century electives” by middle school.
All eight schools will receive security upgrades, as well as new furniture and lighting for redesigned classrooms. School officials have told Eden Prairie News that construction could be completed by the start of the 2021-2022 school year, at which point sixth graders would transition to the middle school. Safety and security upgrades will begin immediately, Swanson said.
“We’re going to start on this tomorrow,” he said.
At the polls
On the morning of Tuesday, May 14, a steady flow of people made their way through Immanuel Lutheran Church at 16515 Luther Way, one of four polling locations open that day. Many of the voters had a connection to Eden Prairie schools.
Steven Nelson raised two children who graduated from Eden Prairie schools and said his vote was to ensure quality education for future generations.
“I definitely believe in the school system,” Nelson told Eden Prairie News as he left the polls. “I want to make sure that the kids coming up have the same opportunities.”
Katie Smith’s son is in fourth grade at Prairie View Elementary. His was one of the first classes to experience smaller class sizes due to the passage of a 2014 referendum, an election that Smith also voted in, she said.
In 2018, the district pointed to an uptick in third grade reading scores as evidence that the referendum did its job. Designing Pathways’ changes would increase the district’s focus on individual education styles and small-group learning, district officials have said.
“That’s why I think it’ll be a good thing to move the sixth grade to middle,” Smith explained.
Stephanie Proper is a parent of two students at Prairie View and Central Middle School. While she wasn’t sure if the community at large was aware of the referendum, the district made sure its parents did by sending fliers, reminder emails and texts about the vote, she said.
“I think those people who have kids in school, there’s no way you don’t know about it,” Proper said.
Nelson might not have been aware of the vote if he hadn’t received an email from the district about it, he said.
“My wife and I have talked to a couple of people who didn’t know there was going to be a vote,” he added.