Enrollment and Funding Needs

Frequently Asked Questions

This spring the School Board will go through the process to decide what financial support it may ask of residents in a November 2019 referendum. They are reviewing recommendations to address projected enrollment growth, the budget needed to operate and staff our schools, and the need to renew a capital projects levy for security and technology funding.

The recommendations fall into three categories:

Bond could include the following:

  • New elementary school to address projected enrollment growth
  • Deferred maintenance funds to protect and maintain our investments
  • New, expanded bus garage

Operating Levy to provide funds to operate and staff our schools

Security & Technology Levy

  • Renewal of this voter-approved capital projects levy will not increase taxes to residents.

Learn more about our enrollment growth and funding needs.

New Elementary School

Where would the new elementary school be built?

No decision has been made about where a new school would be built. The district owns land in Victoria and Chaska that is suitable for an elementary school, but a decision on where the school would go would not be made until we know if voters had approved the bond.

How will a new elementary school impact boundaries?

If voters approve a bond request, the new elementary would open in either fall 2021 or fall 2022. Due to our district’s growth, new boundaries would need to be developed regardless of whether voters approve a bond request for a new elementary or not. We would work with our community to define a process for establishing new boundaries.

Why don’t we just add on to existing elementary schools rather than build a new one?

The Facility Task Force looked at two options to manage projected elementary enrollment growth: adding on to three elementary schools or building a new elementary school. The Task Force recommended a 610-student elementary school as their preferred option, in part because it would cost less than three building additions and would also be less disruptive to students.  The new elementary school is expected to cost $35.5M, where additions to three schools would cost $40.5M. This 610-student size was the smaller of two new school options the Task Force considered, but would be built so that additions could be added later if needed for additional enrollment.

Didn’t we just build a new elementary school?

Yes, voters approved a bond in 2015 that included funding to build Carver Elementary School. The school was built to meet our needs at the time and was nearly full when it opened. Several residential developments in Carver and throughout our district have started that weren’t anticipated when Carver was built.

How much is the district growing - and where is the growth taking place?

Demographic studies project an overall enrollment increase of 1,400 students in five years, with nearly two-thirds of those students at the elementary level. The district is currently at capacity, or close to it, in most elementary schools. The majority of our growth is in Victoria and Carver, but Chaska and Chanhassen also have planned residential developments which will impact enrollment.

If we are having growth at the elementary level, why won’t that impact our middle and high schools?

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.

How reliable is the demographer’s study?

Demographers’ reports are projections based on historical data, housing information, births and other research. Our demographers did an initial study in January-May 2018. They then reviewed and updated their original findings, which confirmed their original report. The first five years are based on children who are already born and homes that have been started or have permits. The second five years are projected more conservatively to ensure we don’t overbuild, which means our growth projections could actually be higher than anticipated in the later years. In general, we tend to use conservative estimates when working with a demographer.

Deferred Maintenance

What is deferred maintenance? Don’t you maintain the buildings regularly?

Deferred maintenance is similar to what takes place at your home. There are things you do as they come up (new carpet, for example) and other things that you wait until they are needed that tend to be higher cost (new roof, for example). Schools are no different. There are items maintained every year and other items that build up over time and cost too much to cover through the district’s annual budget. This deferred maintenance then requires additional funding provided through a bond request approved by voters. The district’s annual budget for deferred maintenance is between $2.5 and $4 million – enough to cover some of the most pressing needs, but certainly not all needs districtwide.

Why is there so much deferred maintenance required?

Even though the district has been growing and building new schools, the median age of our schools is 34 years. While there have been updates to parking lots, roofs, flooring and paint over the years, the district has a limited budget to cover deferred maintenance. Additional needs include things like inefficient heating and ventilation systems, cracked and worn foundations, eroded flooring and more. Since 2011, the district has invested about $30 million in deferred maintenance through various funding sources. While this ongoing maintenance is critical, it is not enough to cover all the needs in a district our size with aging facilities and ongoing building needs.

How were the plans made for which schools receive which deferred maintenance projects?

A facilities task force met several times in fall 2018 to provide recommendations to preserve and maintain learning spaces for years to come and serve a student population that is projected to continue growing.  The scope of current facility needs they identified was large and will require both additional funding and prioritization to accomplish. The district engaged the services of architects, engineers and a construction manager to develop the list, along with the buildings and grounds department.  They reviewed the age and life expectancy of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as roofing and building exteriors. They also considered the general wear and tear to determine the greatest needs.

What specific deferred maintenance would take place at each building?

Based on the work of the Facility Task Force, these are the items that would be addressed at each site. An additional list of $77 million of long-term maintenance items were also recommended over the next ten years, which would be funded by future School Board levy authority.

How much is the district growing - and where is the growth taking place?

Demographic studies project an overall enrollment increase of 1,400 students in five years, with nearly two-thirds of those students at the elementary level. The district is currently at capacity, or close to it, in most elementary schools. The majority of our growth is in Victoria and Carver, but Chaska and Chanhassen also have planned residential developments which will impact enrollment.

Chaska High School has very high heating costs. Would that be fixed as part of the bond request?

Selected mechanical systems and new controls for Chaska HS are part of the bond request.

Bus Garage

Why do we need a new bus garage?

We contract for transportation services for 120 daily routes covering more than 2.1 million miles annually and own a bus garage located in downtown Chaska.  The current garage can hold 50 buses, but the district operates more than 100 buses. As the district grows, the need for more buses will grow as well. The current 6.5 acres site includes 42,000 square feet of storage which is half the size of the facility needed to house and maintain the bus fleet. The garage needs additional mechanical bays, wash bays and more land for parking and space. About 40-50 buses are currently stored outdoors which impacts the life expectancy of the buses and increases costs for items such as electrical plug-ins, excessive fuel while idling, and labor costs.

Do we own land for a new bus garage? If not, where will the district consider building it?

We do not own land for a new bus garage and will consider all options. Location considerations would include property near major roadways, somewhat central to the entire district and possibly located in a commercial and industrial area. The existing site would be sold, providing funds to offset some costs of building a new garage.

What impact would a new bus garage have on our relationship with Positive Connections and our bus costs?

The school district currently contracts for the majority of its busing services through Positive Connections, with some routes covered by Koch Bus Company. The district’s relationship with Positive Connections would not need to change.  However, the district recently conducted a study to consider bringing busing services in-house and will discuss any recommendations with the Board prior to making a decision. The proposal for a new bus garage would provide the appropriate amount of storage for all of our busses and thus lower our costs since buses would not need to idle to warm up, there would be fewer mechanical issues based on weather wear-and-tear and it would lower labor costs.  

Why do the city of Carver and Carver County care about our bus garage site?

The District’s bus garage is located on a prime site in downtown Chaska. If voters approve the bond request, the district could sell the current bus garage site to the city of Carver or Carver County. Redevelopment of this site would provide an opportunity for the three government agencies (City, County and School District) to better serve its citizens and students.

  • Carver County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Carver County is looking at ways to plan for this rapid growth. The bus garage site is the preferred location for relocation of Carver County’s new Health & Human Services Center.
  • The Chaska Library’s current location is undersized for the community’s needs. The community is looking at the current location of the County’s License Center as the preferred location for a new, expanded Library. The current bus garage site would then provide space to relocate the County License Center.
  • The current bus garage site also has the potential for adding much needed affordable housing for the city of Chaska.
I heard a new bus garage may be included in the state’s omnibus education bill. Is that true?

The state gives school districts a variety of tools to fund their needs. One option is for the state to give our school district special lease levy authority to pay for a new bus garage, similar to what they provided to School District 196 in 2014. If that authority is granted, we would be able to remove the bus garage from our bond referendum request. This would also enable the process of moving to a new site to begin sooner, which would be in the interests of the city of Carver, Carver County and the school district. However, we won’t know the state’s final decision until the legislative session adjourns, currently scheduled for May 20, 2019.

Operating Levy

What has the district done to manage costs and avoid asking voters for more funding?

We have worked hard to do responsible budget planning with staff and the School Board. We have made budget cuts totalling nearly $10 million in the last decade – including $3.5 million in the last three years alone. However, expenses continue to outpace revenue and strain our operating budget. We spend $7.4 million dollars annually out of our general budget to cover unfunded mandates that are not fully reimbursed from state or federal sources for special education services. This is exacerbated by state funding that has not kept pace with inflation for several years. If state funding had kept pace with inflation since 2003, we would have received more than $6 million in additional funding this year alone. Looking ahead, expenses will exceed revenue by approximately $9 million over the next two years based on current assumptions. This is not sustainable, and will require both cost containment and increased revenue for balanced budgets.

How would class sizes be impacted if a referendum does or does not pass?

If an operating levy increase is not approved, it is likely that class sizes will increase by 1.0 to 1.5 students across all grade levels.  If voters approve a levy increase, it would enable the district to maintain class sizes.

Why does the district need more funding?

While the district has worked diligently over the past years to keep costs in check through cost containment measures and responsible budget planning, expenses are outpacing revenue. State funding is not keeping up with inflation or increasing costs, and we are not fully reimbursed for the important special education services we provide. One way to fill this funding gap is by asking voters to approve an increase in the district’s operating levy.

What do operating levies pay for?

Operating levies pay the costs of operating schools, such as staff salaries, classroom materials and supplies, transportation costs, utilities, academic programming and offerings, and other student support services.

Security and Technology Levy

Doesn’t the district already have a security and technology levy?

Yes, but this levy is due to expire. The School Board intends to ask voters to renew that existing funding. Because it would be a renewal, it would not increase taxes.

How would security and technology levy be spent?

It would continue and maintain the work we have been doing with the existing levy. Security includes: secured school entrances, visitor check-in and management, keyless “smart” doors, surveillance cameras, software/servers/storage, paging system. Technology includes: tablets and chromebooks, internet monitoring, engineering/curriculum labs, additional bandwidth, instructional and technology support, collaboration stations, professional development.

Why are technology and security combined into one levy request?

The official name of this levy is a Capital Projects Levy, and it can only be used for specific expenses related to security and technology.

General

What happens if voters don’t approve an operating levy increase, a bond request and a security/technology levy renewal?

The Board and Administration will be developing responses to these questions as they review district finances in spring 2019 and determine exactly what would be on the November 5 ballot, but in general:

  • Without an operating levy increase, expenses will continue to outpace revenue and we will need to make budget cuts moving forward.
  • Without the bond, our elementary schools will get increasingly crowded, deferred maintenance needs will not be taken care of and our bus maintenance costs will increase.
  • Without the security/technology levy renewal, our security infrastructure will suffer and our classroom technology will age and won’t have ongoing support.
How would approval of these funding requests impact our taxes - and for how long?

Approval of the security and technology levy renewal would not increase taxes, because it renews existing funding that is already in place. We won’t know the tax impact of the bond and operating levy requests until the board approves official dollar amounts for those requests. We anticipate that an operating levy would be approved for ten years, a bond would be approved for twenty years and the capital projects (security and technology) levy would be renewed for ten years – but the final length for each is up to the School Board.

As our district grows and we have more residents, does that impact our taxes?

As we grow and add residents and businesses, our tax base also grows. This spreads the overall tax burden over more taxpayers, which can reduce the amount of tax paid by individuals.

What is the difference between a bond and a levy?

Bonds are for building and levies are for learning. Bond funds are used for construction, renovation and building maintenance. Operating levy dollars cover school and district operating costs, such as salaries, transportations, academic supports and utilities.

Didn’t we just approve a referendum in 2015? How have those dollars been used?

In 2013, voters approved the security and technology levy and renewed an operating levy. In 2015, voters approved an operating levy increase and a bond. The 2015 bond was used to build Carver Elementary, add on to Clover Ridge Elementary and Victoria Elementary, build a new pool and athletic center, and address deferred maintenance. The 2015 operating levy increase was used for operating expenses for the new facilities and to help bridge a budget gap. Learn more about how the bond funds have been used.