STILLWATER, Minn. — The Stillwater School District has found reprieve after the Minnesota Court of Appeals found the district to be within its legal right when it came to the appropriation of bonding dollars.
The suit, which surrounds the change of direction Stillwater Area Public Schools chose following a multi-million dollar bonding referendum came to a close as Judge Jill Halbrooks sided in favor of the district.
“Neither the cancellation of improvements at the elementary schools slated for closure nor the HVAC upgrade at Oak Park depart from the original purpose in this bond referendum, voter approval of these changes is not required,” Judge Halbrooks writes in the opinion. “The district court properly determined that the planned changes to the school district’s projects do not violate Minnesota State Statute.”
In 2015, the Stillwater School District asked its citizens to vote on a $97 million school bond referendum. The money was to be allocated for various projects according to the Stillwater Gazette, including expansion of the high school, a new elementary school, and various improvements to existing schools.
As Minneapolis City Pages reports, many are calling the referendum a “bait-and-switch.”
Shortly after the referendum was passed, Alpha News reported on how the school district changed the use for the bonding dollars.
The school district decided to rescind all proposed funding for improvements to three elementary schools – Marine, Oak Park, and Withrow – but decided to shut down the schools all together.
Families, upset by the secrecy and alleged deceit at the hands of the school district filed a lawsuit in Spring of 2016. As Alpha News reported, Melissa Douglas filed suit against the district for “the school board’s failure to follow open meeting laws, lack of communication with stakeholders and ignoring its own evidence in the proposal to close the schools.”
However, Judge Halbrook notes in the opinion the word “including” in the bonding referendum language signifies a “nonexclusive list.” The word “including” allows the district to use bonding dollars for the three closed schools and would not be a “drastic change.”