Important planning around demographic and facility studies were the focus of Monday night’s School Board meeting. Eastern Carver County Schools administration completed these studies over the summer and presented them to the School Board over the last two months. The next step, discussed on Sept. 24, is to convene a task force consisting of parents, two school board members, and school and district administration. This group will prioritize needs for new construction needed to match enrollment growth and for essential school maintenance. The task force will make recommendations to the board in early 2019. In the spring, the board will begin its process to decide what to ask of the public in a referendum in November 2019.

Demographic wave
The demographic study showed that Eastern Carver County Schools’ growth is accelerating due to new home construction. In the next four years, 1,000 additional students are predicted to enroll in Eastern Carver County Schools, primarily at the elementary level. Carver Elementary, which opened last year, has two or three years before it reaches capacity and a new school takes at least two years to build. The task force will review options to add classroom space, like the projects completed at Clover Ridge and Victoria elementary schools in 2017, and the option to build a new elementary school. The district owns two parcels of land suitable for an elementary school.

$150 million in 10-year deferred maintenance
The other half of the task force’s work is around deferred maintenance. Of the 16 schools operated by Eastern Carver County Schools, five of them are 40 years old and older. The district also owns a school bus garage in downtown Chaska, the Eastern Carver County Athletic Center, and part of the Victoria Ice Arena. Like a home that is more than 40 years old, essential systems in older schools including heating, air handling and foundations need to be replaced and repaired. The district’s bus garage does not have enough sheltered parking for the additional school buses that have been added over the years. (Note: The district allows bus companies to use the garage as part of the transportation contract. The bus companies provide buses and drivers.) Like a home, when school facilities are updated, they must meet modern code requirements. Some maintenance projects, such as replacing air handling systems, become expensive for this reason. The facility study identified more than $150 million in deferred maintenance costs over the next 10 years.

Referendum planning
Given the potential tax cost for new construction and maintenance, the facility task force, which starts meeting in October, will help the School Board prioritize. A request for funding to address these needs could be added to a referendum in November 2019. The district’s levy for safety and technology, which was approved in 2013, expires after 2019 unless voters agree to renew it. School district taxes have been declining since 2015 due to conservative management by district administration and School Board, and due to a growing property tax base (new homes and businesses). The board and administration recognize that additional funding requests have to be for the right amount and for the most necessary projects.