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District 2142 approves school building program

Voters of rural St. Louis County narrowly passed a $78 million school bond referendum Tuesday by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, according to a preliminary, unofficial count. In all 53 percent of registered voters in the district weighed in on the election.

"I'm extremely relieved," said Bob Larson, chairman of the school board. "I think that now, as a board, we will work together to address the needs of those who voted no, as well as those who voted for the referendum."

Three prior referendums for Independent School District 2142 failed, but those were for levies that would have supported the district's existing school operations. The latest referendum will authorize an investment of about $78 million in facilities, including schools in Cherry, Babbitt-Embarrass and an elementary school in Tower-Soudan.

Of the district's seven existing facilities, four will close, including the AlBrook, Cotton, Cook and Orr schools.

If the referendum had failed, school district officials said the district would likely dissolve completely, and students would need to be sent to neighboring districts.

Carlye Olson of Culver, the mother of a 5-year-old named Wyatt, said she's pleased her son will be able to stay closer to home.

"I think it's important to have schools in our communities, versus sending everyone to Cloquet or Proctor or wherever," she said.

Olson believes that by consolidating operations ISD 2142 will be able to provide more class offerings, keeping more students in the district. "When we can't offer what students need or want, they go somewhere else," she said.

The district's enrollment has fallen by about 800 students in the past decade. ISD 2142 faces unique challenges due to its low population density. The district serves fewer than 2,000 students sprawled out across more than a 4,200-square-mile territory.

The 20-year referendum will result in higher property taxes, boosting the annual payment on a $100,000 home by about $164.