November 5 Referendum: Reality Check

Administrative Costs

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:  Eastern Carver County Schools threatens to cut a 50K band program, yet has a 350 page budget and spends over 8 Million on Community Ed.  Who really pays for Community Ed? 

Reality: Per Minnesota Statute, Community Education (Community Services) is a separate fund and receives its funding separate from the School District. These funds DO NOT come from the District’s general fund budget nor does the school district spend any of its general fund budget on these programs.   By Minnesota Statute, Community Education must be included in our budget and audit reports and submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education on an annual basis.  The 2019 Referendum does NOT include any funding for Community Education programs or services.

Community Education receives nearly 70% of their funding from community members who participate in community education programs and classes.  Certain community education programs receive funding from a combination of state aid and local levy.  This includes Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and School Age Child Care (children with disabilities who attend before and after child care).  Community Education receives about 18% of its funding in state aid with only 11.3% of its funding from local taxes.  Community Education programs provides learning opportunities for our community’s youngest learners, adult learners and afterschool programs for all students.

Community Education programs include:

  • Preschool
  • Early Childhood Family Education
  • Youth Enrichment Programs
  • School Readiness
  • Adult Enrichment
  • Child Care

 

Rumor: At a recent school board meeting, I heard the district is spending $300/pupil on its equity program.

Reality: A statement made by the district finance director during the levy certification report to the school board on September 23rd was not in reference to the district’s equity program, but rather an explanation of a change at the state level in how funding is allocated.  In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature added an additional component to the general education program called location equity. This change was to level the playing field between metro and regional center districts who had referendums and those who did not.  Those school districts who didn’t could access up to $424 per adjusted pupil unit in board-approved revenue.  In Fiscal Year 2016, the legislature expanded this authority to all districts re titled it local optional revenue (LOR).

The local optional revenue allowance of $424 per pupil unit is subtracted from any existing school district operating referendum (which is the case for Eastern Carver County Schools).  No additional funds are provided to Eastern Carver County Schools, but rather it provides more equalization between state aid and local levy.  In other words, the local tax levies go down while state aid increases.

In addition to the $424 local operating revenue in 2013, the 2019 Minnesota Legislature transferred $300 per adjusted pupil unit from Minnesota school district’s operating referendum to the local optional revenue category.  This transfer will take place in fiscal year 2020-21. The terminology location equity and local optional revenue is interchangeable in school finance terms.

These legislative changes did NOT increase or decrease the amount of funding for the school district. It simply moved funds out of the voter-approved operating referenda to the category of local optional revenue.  The funding is used for operations of the school district and is not a levy set aside for equity purposes.

Just to reiterate, that $300/pupil information reported at the Board meeting was not related at all to Eastern Carver County Schools equity programming or spending, but to state funding categories.

Capacity vs. Enrollment

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 construction 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: How does the district count the number of students? Explain the difference between your capacity and enrollment numbers. 

Reality: In school districts there are different measures for counting students.
• Enrollment is the number of K-12 students in our building. School Districts must annually report the number of students enrolled on October 1 to the Department of Education.
• Average Daily Membership (ADM) is a calculation of the full time equivalency of the students enrolled.
• Adjusted ADM is a weighting factor times the ADM. (For instance, a high school student is weighted at 1.2 because it is more expensive to educate high school students)
• Preschool students are not counted in the above methodology unless they are enrolled in special education classes.

The number of students enrolled and forecasted dictates the amount of space we need for educating students. ADM and Adjusted ADM are used in the financial calculations for state, federal and local funding. It is the figure used for budgeting and in our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). While there is a correlation with enrollment, it is NOT enrollment. The state uses ADM because we do not receive state aid for students who graduate early, who come midyear, for students who attend classes outside of our district, etc. Enrollment will always be higher than ADM.

As noted above, preschool students are not included in the enrollment and ADM figures and are not reported to the Minnesota Department of Education unless they are enrolled in a special education program. The district does not receive state aid on preschool programs. However, these programs for our early learners are important because these programs bring student enrollment into our kindergarten program and they are in high demand from our parents.

Similar to enrollment, there are two methods that are used for calculating capacity, building/construction capacity and the program capacity. Construction or building capacity measures the number of classrooms times an average number of students. For instance, an elementary school may have 28 classrooms and an average of 25 students in a classroom, which equates to a 700 student school.

However, not all schools have classrooms used for regular instruction with 25 students. If a school building has special education center based program(s), for instance, they will use classrooms to accommodate these students and the class size is a lot less than 25, typically between 4-12 students. Additionally, schools may have preschool programs in their buildings which also have lower student to teacher ratios. We refer to this as program capacity – the available capacity is based on the programs in the school. Based on the programming request by parents, student needs, and programs offered, the programming capacity can fluctuate.

Since the construction of Carver Elementary and additions at Victoria Elementary and Clover Ridge Elementary, we have added 970 students in building/construction capacity, but less than that in program capacity. Some noteworthy changes in programming; the Kindergarten Center used to house kindergarten classes for Clover Ridge Elementary (CRE) as well as housing the La Academia program. Now that CRE has kindergarten in their building and La Academia has moved to the former Chaska Elementary School, the Kindergarten Center is now the Family Learning Center and is no longer in our count for K-12 program capacity. The Family Learning Center (preschool program) was located in a wing of Chaska HS and moved to the former Kindergarten Center.

There are many other changes that have occurred in our buildings since the building construction at our schools (i.e. preschool programs now take up more “regular” K classrooms, former teacher collaboration areas aren’t used as classrooms, classrooms are used as innovation centers where students rotate in and out but not there the entire day, etc.). View chart for more details. 

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 closed an elementary school it could be using instead of building a new one.

Reality: While Chaska Elementary School “closed” in the sense that the building no longer has that name, it now houses La Academia, our district’s Spanish immersion elementary school, and Kinder Academy, our program for children with summer birthdays and young five-year-olds.  The old Kindergarten Center on Village Road in Chaska is now our Family Learning Center, which houses our preschool program and Early Childhood Family Education. This building is not equipped to be an elementary school site in terms of size or features.

Overall Tax Impact

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.

Bus Garage

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 10,000 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.

Rumor: I heard that the district already bought a new bus garage in Chaska. 

Reality: At its August 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.

Security & Technology Levy

Rumor: The district is telling us question 3 will cost nothing but they are increasing the original 2013 security and technology levy funding request. How does this not add to our taxes?

Reality: Question 3 is a renewal of an existing security and technology levy.  The district has never claimed question three is “free” – rather, that there will be no additional tax impact associated with question 3 because it is already on property taxes.  Voters approved the security and technology levy in 2013; this levy was approved for six years, but is due to expire and is necessary to maintain critical security and technology systems throughout the district. The 2019 funding request to renew the expiring capital project levy for security and technology proposes a renewal and would be authorized for ten years. The tax rate for this levy will remain at the 2013 rate of 4.947% times the NTC and is not being increased from the prior year’s rate.

As stated on voters’ ballots, these funds will be used for the “acquisition and installation of security, technology, and teaching and learning capital improvements.” More specifically, the proposed authorization will enable the district to continue the work we started in 2013 to:

Maintain, replace/deploy, and expand infrastructure, devices, systems and applications such as:

  • Keyless “smart” doors to secure access to schools
  • Security cameras and surveillance software
  • Secured school entrances, including vestibules and visitor check-in and management software.
  • Cyber security for internet access and online safety including access for parents to monitor students’ use of internet
  • Network services for wireless access and increase internet bandwidth
  • Classroom instruction tools such as collaboration stations and wireless projection
  • Tablets and computing devices (Chromebooks) for learning in grades K-12
  • System infrastructure such as servers, storage and network capacity

Support for students, staff, and parents through:

  • Tech staff to assist students and teachers with technology in the classroom
  • Securly internet monitoring and reporting and teacher support tool to manage devices in the classroom.
  • Training and assistance with cyber security for students and staff
  • Digital subscriptions for flexibility in learning
  • Professional development for teachers

View more details about the district’s 2020-2030 Technology Plan here. 

General

Rumor: I’ve seen different totals for the 2019 Referendum. Which is accurate?

Reality:  The Nov. 5 Referendum will ask residents of E. Carver Co Schools to vote on funding to address budget gaps and growing enrollment in the district. There will be 3 questions on the Nov. 5 ballot:

  • Question 1 is a $550 per pupil operating referendum for $5.6 million for 10 years.
  • Question 2 is $111.7 million 20 year bond referendum.
  • Question 3 is a Security and Technology Referendum at 4.947% of Net Tax Capacity which equates to $4.4 million for 10 years.

These three questions have NOT changed since the School Board made the decision to go out for the referendum in June 2019, yet there has been some confusion on the total cost of the referendum because of reporting changes by Southwest Media News.

In the June 20 edition of the Chaska Herald and Chanhassen Villager — and as it has done in many previous school referenda — the editor chose to combine the three questions and report them as a sum, totalling $121.7 million dollars.

Question 1          $5.6M
Question 2      $111.7M
Question 3          $4.4M
Total                $121.7M

The editor then changed the manner in which the referenda questions were summarized and reported a new total in the October 10 edition of both newspapers. This time, taking Questions 1 and 3 annual amounts, times the total number of years of the levies.

Question 1          $5.6M x 10 years = $ 56.0M
Question 2                                          $111.7M
Question 3          $4.4M x 10 years = $ 44.0M
Total                                                    $211.7M

If residents look at the sum over the 10-year period, these figures are correct.  However, the school district will NOT receive “lump sums” of funding for Questions 1 and 3, but rather the amounts of $5.6M and $4.4M for these two levies would be received on an annual basis over 10 years.  Additionally, it is important to know that taxpayers do NOT pay taxes on these “lump sum” amounts all in one year.

School Districts across the state communicate referendum questions in the same manner as E. Carver Co. Schools does, and has done, in past and present elections. We follow legal requirements for referendum ballot language.

In summary, the district did NOT increase or change its reporting of the amount of the referendum, but rather, the newspaper chose to report it in a different manner than it has in past school referendum elections. This has caused questions to arise about the total amount that the district is asking voters to consider in the November election.

If voters approve the referendum requests on the Nov. 5 ballot, the average homeowner ($350,000 home) would see a tax increase of about $36 per month.  Voters can see that school district taxes have actually declined over the last six years, even with the 2013 and 2015 voter approved referenda (more than 14% decline on the average $350,000 home). See Levy Impact Comparison chart here.

More questions?

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

It’s about kids

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