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Lake Park-Audbon backs $21 million school bond

After shooting down five school building proposals since 2005, Lake Park-Audubon residents decisively backed a $21 million bond to fund a new high school and renovations at the district elementary.

In the Tuesday election, 1,538 residents - or more than 60 percent of voters - voted "yes," with 1,018 voting "no."

"It's a great feeling," said Superintendent Dale Hogie, who shortly before 11 p.m. had just delivered the news to a crowd of several dozen students and residents in the Audubon elementary. "They just erupted in noise and cheering and crying."

Earlier this year, LP-A qualified for federal stimulus package money that will cover the bond interest on $19 million - a development district financial advisers say could save as much as $10 million. Superintendent Dale Hogie said the sizable help from the federal government had generated the momentum that yielded passage after five failed votes. Most recently, about 55 percent of taxpayers rejected a $19.5 million bond in 2008.

But he also credited a vigorous campaign by community supporters with tipping the scales.

"Our community members were sensational," Hogie said. "They worked so hard to get the word out, and that really made the difference, I think."

The latest vote brought out residents to public forums on the bond in record numbers. Signs in both support and opposition to the facility proposal sprang up in yards, including most recently a spate of "What are the consequences for voter fraud?" signs.

A group of levy supporters calling registered voters to advocate for passage said they came across a number of past voters who appeared to be seasonal residents, not allowed to vote by law.

The bond will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $146 per year over 17 years. The owner of a $200,000 will pay an extra $293 a year in school taxes.

Opponents of the bond argued that a recent decline in district enrollment makes building a new high school an ill-timed and extravagant expense. They had urged the district to pursue repairs instead of new construction.

George Kohn, an outspoken critic of the school district, said the efforts of bond opponents in recent years had been worth it despite Tuesday's passage.

"The district needs to profusely express gratitude to the no voters who stopped five votes and saved the district $50 million," he said. "Had the first vote gone through, it would have been for $70 million with the interest."

He referred to the district's first proposal in 2005, a $34 million bond that district financial advisers estimate would have cost taxpayers more than $66 million with the interest. Kohn added opponents of the bond plan to keep a close eye on the project's execution.

Hogie said work on the construction and renovations would begin as early as possible this year.