Enrollment Growth and School Funding Needs

For the past several months, Eastern Carver County Schools has been looking at ways to manage growing enrollment, aging buildings, budget pressures and academic needs. Staff and the School Board have reviewed the hard work of the Facility Task Force, used community surveys and listening sessions to gather public input, and analyzed budget projections. Following that review, the School Board unanimously approved placing three school funding requests on the Nov. 5 ballot. If all three questions are approved by voters, the tax increase on the average homeowner would be $36 per month ($350,000 value home). If any of the questions do not pass, there would be negative impacts, such as continued crowding, increased class sizes, deteriorating facilities, teacher layoffs, continued cuts to academic programs and services, cuts to technology equipment and support, and limited updates to school security systems.

The Road to a Referendum

  • Fall 2018  A study of all buildings owned by Eastern Carver County Schools was completed by a set of engineering and construction firms.
  • Oct. 2018  Facility Task Force formed to review facility needs and develop recommendations for the school board.
  • Jan. 2019  Updated demographic study on enrollment growth completed by an outside firm projects exponential growth of district by 1,400, mostly elementary level students, in the next five years.
  • Jan.  Following four months of study, a task force brought a bond referendum recommendation to the school board to fund a new elementary school and larger bus garage, as well as deferred maintenance across the district.
  • Jan. – May  Budget discussions with staff and School Board.
  • Feb. – May  Feedback gathered on all funding needs through community surveys, staff input, School Board discussions and a listening session.
  • May 20  Legislative session ended.
  • Jun. 24  School board approved Nov. 2019 referendum.
  • July-Nov.  Referendum information shared with the community.
  • Sep. 20  Absentee voting begins.
  • Nov. 5, 2019  Election Day

Levies are for learning. Bonds are for building.

When a school district needs additional funding to operate, maintain or build schools, they must get voter approval through a referendum. Bond funds can only be used for construction and renovations. Operating levies are a legally separate funding stream that voters can approve to support classrooms and educational programs. In 2013 and 2015, our residents approved funding to support our growing district. See how these past referendum funds have been used.

Question 1: Increase the operating levy

An operating levy increase of $550 per student or approximately $5.6 million per year to continue the strong academic preparation of our students, prevent cuts to programs and services, maintain class sizes and manage growing enrollment. Question 1 must be approved in order for Question 2 to pass.

Why Now? For years, state funding has not kept pace with inflation or increasing costs, and does not close the funding gap for our special education services. School district leaders have done a good job of keeping expenses down while cutting the budget by $3.5 million over the past three years, but given these additional pressures on the district’s operating budget – and without additional revenue – more cuts will be necessary.

Question 2: Building bonds request

A bond request for $111.7 million to build a new elementary school on district-owned land in Chaska, address deferred maintenance and building repair projects across the district, and build a larger bus garage. These building projects are based on the recommendations of the Facility Task Force. Question 2 can pass only if Question 1 is approved.

Why Now? Our district keeps growing, and our buildings are aging. Additional space is needed for more students and to keep class sizes from increasing. Taking care of deferred maintenance across the district would help protect the community’s investment in our schools. And our bus garage only holds half our buses – which increases maintenance costs.

Build Elementary School to Address Rapid Growth

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 cost to build a new elementary school is $35.9 million. Learn more about the Facility Task Force’s rationale behind this recommendation. 

Deferred Maintenance – Maintaining Schools

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, much more deferred maintenance remains. This includes things like inefficient heating and ventilation systems, cracked and worn foundations, eroded flooring and more. The Facility Task Force, working with engineering and architectural consultants, compiled a list of deferred maintenance needs totaling nearly $139 million. The recommendation to the School Board included $62.1 million in deferred maintenance as part of a bond referendum in November. The remaining needs would be managed over 10 years using other funding sources available to the School Board, pending their approval.

New, Expanded Bus Garage

By bringing bus services in-house and owning all the buses, the district will be able to provide better service to families, save money and take better care of our own assets. The current bus garage is only half the size needed to properly house and maintain district buses, and is also in need of $1.5M-2M in repairs. The Facility Task Force recommended a new, expanded bus garage. The cost for this is $13.7 million.

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.

At its August 19 meeting, the School Board approved entering into a purchase agreement to purchase an existing commercial/industrial building which will be converted into a new bus garage. The building is located at 4201 Norex Drive in Chaska. The purchase of the property is contingent on passage of the November 5 bond referenda, which includes funding to build a larger bus garage. Learn more HERE.

Question 3: Security & technology levy renewal

A no-tax increase renewal of our existing security and technology levy, which would provide approximately $4.4 million per year for 10 years to support school security systems, technology for students and staff, and related professional development and support.

Why Now? In 2013, voters approved a capital projects levy for security and technology. The levy provides funding to improve school security, maintain technology infrastructure and put learning tools in the hands of students. This six-year levy is due to expire, but that requires voter approval. Renewing the levy will not increase taxes to residents. Continued investments in security help keep our schools safe. Technology allows the district to enhance and enrich learning – providing engaging, relevant and personalized experiences.