Dear Eastern Carver County Schools Community,

A video circulated recently containing some strong claims about the district’s investment in equity, and the upcoming referendum.  We wanted a chance to set the record straight.

Our mission as a district is simple and straightforward: all learners achieving their personal best.  It is more than a mission, it’s the foundation of the work we do. That means we are responsible for meeting the needs of each one of our students.  That’s the heart of personalized learning and our commitment to each learner as educators. We are not fulfilling that mission as long as the outcomes for groups of students are meaningfully different.  This is not political, or partisan; it’s our legal, moral, and ethical obligation to our students.

Equity in Eastern Carver County Schools

At Eastern Carver County Schools, equity means that a student’s identity – their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, immigration status, religion, and/or disability – does not predict their success.  All students are provided the tools, resources, and support they need to achieve their personal best. Think about it: if a student is struggling with reading, their teacher will provide extra supports for them to help them get where they need to be. That’s equity. This work is not about certain students learning or benefiting at the cost of others, rather it is about making sure all of our students – each and every one – can thrive within our classrooms and beyond.

Our district is not operating in isolation, districts throughout the state, and nation, are grappling with these issues.  Superintendents throughout the metro, working in partnership as part of the Reimagine Minnesota initiative have identified ensuring equity and excellence for all students as the most pressing issue in education today.

Our vision for Eastern Carver County Schools is a safe, welcoming, and inclusive district where all students feel heard, seen, and valued. Our district celebrates students for who they are – their unique personal story – and provides students with a personalized, exceptional education that will help prepare them for who they want to become.

Eastern Carver County Schools is, and has been committed to this work. Over the last decade, our district has engaged in a variety of initiatives with the shared purpose of creating communities of belonging and success. Beginning the 2018-19 school year, we began the work of developing a more coordinated commitment to equity in our schools, including hiring an equity coordinator for the district.

As part of that work, the district contracted with Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, a nationally recognized scholar and expert in the field, to perform an equity audit of the district.  The report includes recommendations for curricular and professional development, as well as strategies to increase student and community engagement. Discussion of religion of any kind was not a part of the report, or Dr. Khalifa’s work on the district’s behalf. Eastern Carver County Schools is a public school district and cannot and does not advocate for religion of any kind in or outside the classroom.

Part of this audit was an equity survey, delivered via email to staff, parents, and students in grades 5-12.  The district did follow policy and state law and communicated in advance through the 112 Online newsletter and an email to families from the superintendent.  That email provided information about both the survey and the audit, indicating it would analyze a number of things, including district policies and practices.  Because the survey was optional for everyone, it did not require consent and any student and parent could simply not participate.  We acknowledge that communication regarding the survey could have been more clear, and we are committed to improving. With the submittal of the final report, Dr. Khalifa’s contracted work with the district is completed.

Next up for the district is the development of our equity action plan.  Our new director of equity and inclusion, Dr. Keith Brooks, was brought on board in July to help lead that effort and align the work district-wide.  The district will take feedback from over 50 feedback sessions held throughout the community, and consider that, with the audit, and all of our academic and behavioral data, as that action plan is formulated. A preliminary plan and short-term strategies will be ready over the fall, with a final plan in place over the winter.

November 5 Referendum: Rumor vs. Reality

Rumor:  The district’s administrative spending is exorbitant and padded with unnecessary staff.

Reality: Just over three cents out of every dollar is spent on administrative costs in the district.  While the administrative budget accounts for 3% of our costs, over 30% of our cost containment has come from this category of expenditures.  A district of our size requires staff- 1,432 to be exact – to support both students and the district’s physical infrastructure.  Specialists (this is just a job title) are district employees who work in human resources, payroll, accounting, and any number of jobs that support the work of our schools.  Of the 15 districts comparable to ours, we rank 11th in administrative spending per pupil.

Rumor: The district is not facing capacity issues and enrollment numbers are inflated.

Reality: Eastern Carver County Schools is experiencing growing enrollment and limited capacity at the elementary level. Our existing middle and high schools currently have enough space and capacity to meet the projected enrollment growth through 2028-29, according to the demographer’s report.

In 2016, before opening Carver Elementary, our district ran its elementary schools over capacity to accommodate enrollment growth – with 4,116 elementary students and space for only 3,465. Opening Carver Elementary in 2017 and additions at two elementary schools eased tight conditions and increased elementary capacity to 4,435 students, but enrollment continues to grow.

The community served by Eastern Carver County Schools is projected to grow 60% by 2040, and in the next five years alone, 1,400 students are expected to enroll in Eastern Carver County Schools.  The majority of that growth will come at the elementary level. We’re already seeing that growth with our biggest kindergarten class in history – almost 800 students.  The proposed elementary school as a part of the bond referendum would include capacity for 610 students. Development around the Chaska site is already booming, with lots planned for approximately 2,000 single family homes.

The Facility Task Force recommended this option in part because it would cost significantly less than three building additions and would also be less disruptive to the learning environments. As Eastern Carver County Schools expects continued increases in enrollment, building an elementary school would allow the option to build on additions in the future for additional students.

Rumor: The district is actually losing students.

Reality: The statistic cited is for open enrollment, and it is true that more students open enroll out to other schools than open enroll into Eastern Carver County Schools. We have approximately 3,070 resident students who select other options – private, parochial, or another public school, and make that choice for a variety of reasons.  We have 410 non-resident students who are enrolled in our district.  Net loss for open enrollment is not a new phenomenon for our district; the percentage of students who open enroll outside our district has been consistent over time.  Our overall enrollment numbers continue to increase, from 8,658 in the 2008-2009 school year to 9,598 in the 2018-2019 school year.

Rumor: The district is asking for more money in this referendum than they claim.

Reality: Question 1, the operating levy, asks for an increase in per pupil spending by $550/student, and if approved, this funding would be for a 10-year duration.  Question 2, the bond, asks for $111.7M for deferred maintenance, the construction of the new school, and a new, larger bus garage.  If approved, the bond would be approved for 20 years.  Question 3, the security and technology levy, is a renewal for another 10 years, so it is not asking for new money and would have no additional tax impact on property owners.  Question 3 funds critical security and technology infrastructure, including the systems that protect our schools.  If voters approve the referendum requests, the average homeowner ($350,000 home) would see a tax increase of about $36 per month.Calculate the tax impact you can expect to see on your home.

Rumor: I heard a rumor that the new bus garage is being built to support busing students from other districts to ours. I’ve also heard it’s related to the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit. Is that true?

Reality:  No. Both those statements are false. The school district provides busing for resident students and is NOT going to bus students from other districts to justify a new school. The district has significantly outgrown its current garage, which is only half the size needed to properly house and maintain district buses.  The current garage was built for 50 buses and the district uses nearly 100 to transport nearly 10,0000 students each day. We are building a new bus garage to make sure that the school district’s buses can be stored inside, to have ample space for mechanical work and to provide training and office space for the transportation staff.  The current garage also needs between $1.5 million and $2 million in repairs.

The referendum request for a larger bus garage would provide the space needed to service and maintain our buses, making bus service more reliable for students — while also reducing costs related to leaving buses outside rather than in a garage.

Unrelated to the bond proposal, earlier this year the School Board approved a district recommendation to bring bus services in-house. By doing so, the district will be able to provide better service to resident families, save money, and take better care of our own assets.  In-sourcing will save the district an estimated $500,000 a year.  Every dollar saved on busing goes directly back to the classroom.

At its August 19 meeting, the School Board approved entering into a purchase agreement to purchase an existing building in Chaska for a new bus garage; the agreement is contingent on passage of the November 5 referendum. Beyond benefits for the district and its residents, the move is a win for the broader community.  Carver County has expressed interest in purchasing the old bus garage site for county services and the DMV, and the current DMV location is of interest to the City of Chaska as the site for a future library.

More questions?

Learn more about the referendum at: http://www.district112.org/Vote2019/

It’s about kids

To reiterate, our School Board, and our district staff, are committed to an educational environment where all students feel safe, welcome, and included, and have the tools and resources to succeed. We have not yet realized that for every student, and have been working in earnest to move the needle and improve outcomes for every child that walks through our doors. The video shared recently is trying to present a different narrative about the work of the district, whether it’s about equity or what the referendum will support, but we will not be deterred from our mission to serve kids. Each and every one.

There is much to be proud of in this district: our teachers and staff, our amazing students, and the communities we serve. If you have questions, whether it’s about equity work or the referendum, we encourage you to reach out and ask us directly at 112feedback@district112.org.