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Minnesota district with influx of immigrants passes bond for school expansion

Voters in District 518 in Worthington, Minn., approve $33.7 million expansion proposal; they had rejected five similar requests since 2013.

Residents in the southwestern Minnesota town of Worthington have voted to approve nearly $34 million in new borrowing to expand schools that have been filled to overflowing in recent years by an influx of immigrants.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the approval comes after voters in Independent School District 518 had rejected five similar measures since 2013. The last referendum, in February, failed by only 17 votes.

But on Tuesday, voters narrowly approved all three of the district’s referendum questions. One of them passed by just 19 votes.

Passage means the district has the green light to sell up to $33.7 million in general obligation bonds to construct a new intermediate school designed for 900 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Worthington, a growing community of about 13,000 residents, sits in farm country, and its pork processing plant is a major employer of immigrants.

In September, the town was roiled by a Washington Post story that spotlighted the school district’s struggles to absorb all of its new arrivals from Central America, Africa and Asia, and quoted some supporters saying that racism played a part in the referendum defeats.

But residents who are part of a group that helped sink previous bond proposals contend that the opposition is fiscal, not racial. They argue that voters distrust school administrators and believe the district already has enough money.

Superintendent John Landgaard says the district is “thrilled” to have the questions passed.

“Supporting our kids is important, so we’re appreciative of the voters helping make this happen this time,” Landgaard says.

Voter turnout was just above 50 percent of the number of registered District 518 voters.

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