2019 Eastern Carver County School Referendum Master Thread of Misleading Claims

(This post was originally published on Brick City Blog, with the most recent update on November 5, 2019)

Six days away from the 2019 referendum in Eastern Carver County Schools, I thought it would be a good idea to centralize some of the real facts and data about points of contention as it relates to the 3 referendum questions.

We’ll be updating this post with new information between now and Tuesday, so bookmark and check back! New information will be at the top of the post.

UPDATE #3 (11/5):

Today is the day! I encourage you to seek out factual information and make your own judgments. After doing my research, I voted Yes on all three questions.

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tues., Nov. 5. Here are the polling locations:

Residents living in Carver
Carver City Hall
316 Broadway, Carver
This includes Dahlgren Township,San Francisco Township and the City of Carver

Residents living in Chanhassen
Chanhassen Recreation Center
2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen
This includes City of Chanhassen, Precincts 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3, 4 and 5

Residents living in Chaska
Chaska Community Center
1661 Park Ridge Dr., Chaska
This includes Chaska Township and the City of Chaska, Wards I, II, III, and IV

Residents living in Victoria
Victoria Recreation Center
8475 Kochia Ln., Victoria
This includes Laketown Township and the City of Victoria, Precincts 1, 2 and 3

And, just for good measure, here are a couple of last-minute claims to evaluate:

CLAIM: The district holds referendum elections in odd-numbered years in order to confuse voters, drive down turnout, and have a better chance to win

Various social media posts, like this one.

This one is a little more complicated. Let’s first start by understanding why – excluding reasons surrounding electoral strategy – school districts would find it necessary to go to the expense of holding a separate election in the odd year.

State funding represents 73% of the district’s General Fund budget this year ($91.9M out of $125.6M). The state works on a biannual budget cycle, completed in May of the odd year. This makes the need for odd-year referendums by the district clear, as changes in state funding can have significant budget impacts.

Eastern Carver County Schools 2019-20 General Fund budget by revenue source. Data source.

Why is this important? Because state funding has failed to keep up with inflation since the Ventura Administration. Here’s a graph that shows the base K-12 formula funding trends.

Funding per student is hundreds of dollars below where it would have been had it merely increased at the rate of inflation. Data source.

As a result, districts have had to raise operating levies to make up the gap. In fact, on average, school districts have increased their levies by over $1,000 per student over this time.

Waiting until 2020 puts school districts 18 months behind changes in state funding levels.

As for whether or not, having referendum votes in the odd year increases the chance of success, well, there is some evidence to support that. In 2013/2015/2017 referendums, requests for additional funds (bond or operating levy) passed at a higher rate than similar requests in 2012/2014/2016, while renewals of existing levies were strong in all years.

CLAIM: “They want an avg INCREASE of $700 per household per year for at least the next 10 years”

Carver County Conservative PAC

This is not true. The district has provided a tax calculator which will enable you to estimate the impact on your individual taxes.

The average home value in Carver County is $350,000 — such a home would see an increase in taxes of $36.25 in the first year of the referendum should all three questions pass. That’s $435 per year, not $700. The amount you pay will depend on the value of your home, so the higher value your home the more you will pay.

It’s also worth noting that your tax hit on Q1 and Q2 will be the highest in year 1, and decline from there. As the district grows and the tax capacity grows with it, the costs of the referendum will be spread across a wider group.

Let’s look at what happened with out last referendum as an example:

How much a property with certain values pay to support school levies in Eastern Carver County Schools. Data source

In the image above, I’ve highlighted the row for a home with a value of $400,000. You can see that in 2014, such a home would pay $2,857 to support our schools. The value dipped in 2015, then ticked up again in 2016 after the 2015 referendum passed. In 2019, this home has actually seen its share of taxes fall by more than $300 since the first year of referendum funding in 2016.

UPDATE #2 (10/31):

CLAIM: There is a lack of integrity because the School District is administering the election

Public forum speaker Laura Skistad, October 28 School Board Meeting and various Facebook posts, like this one.

Plain and simple, the district is following the law.

Per Celi Haga, the district’s Director of Communications and Community Relations:

“As was the case in previous elections when there are no other questions on the ballot, the responsibility for running the 2019 special election is that of the school district.  The school district follows both statute and practice as outlined by the Minnesota Secretary of State, and is responsible for administering all election duties as is the case for all other school districts in the state during elections where only the district is on the ballot.

School boards are responsible for the conduction of all school district elections.  The school district clerk is the election administrator for the district.  During absentee voting, the place of business (school district) is the voter’s polling place, as outlined in the Secretary of State’s guidance.

Election guides, including school district elections and absentee voting administration, can be found here: https://www.sos.state.mn.us/election-administration-campaigns/election-administration/election-guides/

Eastern Carver County Schools has always been committed to following the law and maintaining the integrity of the voting process, and continues to do. The district clerk and all election judges have gone through the certification process, as is required by law.  We have worked in close partnership with our county and city clerks to make sure we are following every process as outlined by statute and best practice.”

Paid election judges (from outside the district) are administering the early voting process at the District Education Center. On Tuesday, the Election Day voting will be staffed in the various communities by paid election judges as in all other elections.

UPDATE #1 (10/30):

CLAIM: Between 2014 and 2019, the district only gained 156 students.

Current elementary program capacity is 5,203 students, meaning there are over 900 empty spaces available.

“The District ‘repurposed’ two elementary schools and now wants you to build them a new one.”

Video posted on Eastern Carver County Schools Watchdogs, October 30

Let’s look at some claims about enrollment and capacity in our schools at the elementary school level. There’s been a lot of confusion here, and some of that is the district’s fault. They have not consistently reported enrollment in the same way from document to document. Some of that is because compliance with various state programs requires tracking enrollment on certain dates while some require averages for the entire school year. Other programs — for funding purposes — count some kids as more or less than one pupil. Even the district’s own referendum information (in the June 24 School Board Packet) had presentations from two consulting firms that had mismatched enrollment numbers.

So in September, I asked the district for one set of consistent actual enrollment numbers, taken on the same date each year– October 1. The only exception, obviously, was this year’s numbers which are as of September 10. Here’s how they look:

Eastern Carver County Schools K-5 enrollment history, 2014-19. Data source.

This data shows a growth of 249 students over that time, or about 1.2% a year on average.

Let’s bring capacity into the equation. The video claims a program capacity of 5,203 students at the K-5 level. That number is just impossible to reconcile with the district’s own numbers.

Eastern Carver County Schools K-5 enrollment and capacity history, 2014-19. Data source – enrollment. Data source – capacity. Data source – capacity 2.

The only way to get to a program capacity of that level is to double count the former Chaska Elementary/current La Academia and Kinder Academy building. This relates to the repurposing comment — here’s what actually happened. In 2017, Carver Elementary school opened (capacity 706). The ECFE programs that were housed primarily at Chaska High School moved to the Kindergarten Center (capacity 280), which was taken out of service as a K-5 school. Meanwhile, the La Academia (from the Kindergarten Center) and Kinder Academy (from Bluff Creek) programs moved to Chaska Elementary (this building went from a capacity of 540 to a capacity of 517 because there are more kindergarten classes there now).

It should be noted that La Academia and Kinder Academy are programs that serve students in the K-5 range. You may hear folks imply that both the former Kindergarten Center and former Chaska Elementary are being used for non K-5 purposes, and that isn’t true — only the former Kindergarten Center is no longer used for K-5.

And why is that? Because the former Kindergarten Center is ill-suited for elementary school usage because its lack of a gymnasium and a substandard kitchen.

When you accurately calculate program capacity for K-5 level, you get a capacity of 4,546 versus an enrollment of 4,310 — or 236 empty seats. However, it’s not practical to combine regular K-5 classes in with La Academia and Kinder Academy, especially considering you could only fit two sections in the building with only 49 seats available. The available capacity of the remaining elementary schools is 187 seats.

If the district grows just at the 1.2% rate of the last five years, and not the accelerated rate projected by the district, you still need a new elementary school in less than five years.

For additional thoughts on capacity issues, see my previous post on this topic.

CLAIM: There is a missing $90M in the district’s referendum request.

Video posted on Eastern Carver County Schools Watchdogs, October 30 and lots of other places

The district provided a coherent explanation for this already. But here’s the quick summary:

When you see $121.7M referred to as the referendum’s cost, that figure is only reporting the Year 1 impact of the referendum

$211.7M is the full 10-year cost of the referendum.

Confusion has ensued based on how the media has reported these figures. Most media sources only report the “Year 1” impact versus the full 10-year cost.


CLAIM: “Eastern Carver County has the highest median property tax in the state of Minnesota!”

Parents for D112 website

Yes, this is true — if you’re talking about median property tax amounts. But there’s more to the story.

The primary reason residents of Carver County have the highest median property taxes is because we have the highest property values in the state. According to SmartAsset, median home prices in Carver County are $287,200, over $15,000 higher than second-place Scott County. But on a tax rate basis (tax paid per dollar of property value), Carver County’s rate of 1.15% is slightly below the state average of 1.19%

It’s also true that residential property owners in our district pay a higher share of the bill because of lower amounts of commercial development in our four communities than typically found in the metro area.

According to 2017 data from the League of Minnesota Cities, 64% of our district’s property tax capacity is residential homesteaded property, compared to a metro average of 50% (and 48% in Minnetonka). Only 19% of our tax capacity comes from commercial property compared to a metro average of 29% (and 34% in Minnetonka).

CLAIM: “Our administration is extremely heavy”

Public forum speaker Gwen Michael, October 28 School Board Meeting

According to figures from the Minnesota Department of Education’s School District Financial Reports for 2018, Eastern Carver County Schools spends $856 per pupil on district and school level administration. That’s $234 per pupil less than the state average, and $137 per pupil less than Minnetonka. It’s the third-lowest of the peer group the district uses for benchmarking.

Eastern Carver County Schools with the third-lowest administration costs of peer districts. Data source.

What is included in “administration”? Per the Minnesota Department of Education, district administrative costs include the cost of the school board, superintendent, administrative staff, and all centralized operations of the district — including finance, IT, purchasing, human resources, etc. School administrative costs include the salary and benefits of the principal, dean, counselor, administrative staff.

CLAIM: “The district currently has a staff of 1,432  of which 730 are teachers. This is a 1:1 ratio, does this seem excessive?”

ParentsforD112 website

The district’s 2019-20 budget lists 714.8 FTE teachers out of 1108.2 total FTE (64.5%). That is NOT a 1:1 ratio. For comparison, Minnetonka’s 2019-20 budget shows 799.25 FTE teachers out of 1326.4 total FTE (60.3%).

Eastern Carver County Schools 2019-20 budget showing FTE by role. Teachers highlighted in yellow. Data source.
Minnetonka Public Schools 2019-20 budget showing FTE by role. Teachers total highlighted in yellow. Data source.

CLAIM: “The school is using space for K-12 for a FOR PROFIT pre-school? This is NOT what we had agreed to and now they claim they need more space?”

Parents for D112 website

Two points to discuss here. First, “for profit preschool”. This isn’t really true. The preschool program is run as a break-even operation — projected to run about $8,000 in surplus on $1.7 million in revenue in 2019-20.

Eastern Carver County Schools 2019-20 budget showing the projected $8,427 surplus in preschool programs. Data source.

The second point is about whether it is appropriate to host preschool in elementary schools. The short answer is: Yes! Many districts do the same thing, particularly districts like our own who serve multiple communities. Here are just a few metro-area districts that host preschool programs in elementary schools:

  • Elk River (also serves Rogers-Otsego-Zimmerman)
  • Anoka-Hennepin
  • South Washington County (Cottage Grove-Woodbury-Newport)
  • Apple Valley-Rosemount-Eagan
  • North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale.
  • Burnsville-Eagan-Savage
  • Bloomington

And why is there preschool in Chanhassen and Victoria Elementary schools in the first place? Because residents of those communities asked for it! The district was being responsive to families with young children who didn’t want long drives for half-day programs and to have their child be accustomed to the elementary school they would be attending once they turn 5.

CLAIM: “The Cost of Educating a student in Minnetonka is Approx. $10,800. The State Average is $11,000”

“The District 112 School Board (Eastern Carver County Schools) pays $1000/yr more per student than the Minn average – and they want lots more by way of a BIG tax increase.”

Video posted by Eastern Carver County Schools Watchdogs, October 27 and by Carver County Conservative PAC, October 28

These figures appear to be outdated. According to figures from the Minnesota Department of Education’s School District Financial Reports for 2018, Minnetonka schools spend $12,238 per pupil from their General Fund. The state average is $12,596 per pupil. Meanwhile, Eastern Carver County Schools was at $12,089 — less than Minnetonka and the state average. Looking again at the peer group of districts, ECCS’s spending was 11th out of 15.

Eastern Carver County Schools with the fifth-lowest general fund spending of peer districts. Data source.

CLAIM: Equity work is about Islamic indoctrination

Ad in the Chaska Herald from Parents For D112, October 24

Schools are covered by extensive federal and state laws prohibiting promotion of any particular religion. Secondly, we don’t need to take anyone’s word for it. We can look at the equity work the district has done. We can look at the full report from the equity audit performed by “Vote No”‘s favorite boogeyman, Dr. Muhammad Khalifa.

None of the work done by the district or its contractors to this point displays any favoritism or promotion of Islam, or any religion for that matter.

CLAIM: Equity work is about treating races differently when it comes to academics and discipline

Alpha News video posted on Eastern Carver County Schools Watchdogs, October 4 and Child Protection League post linked to by Eastern Carver County Schools Watchdogs, October 6

“Vote No” groups point to examples of other districts that they believe have lessened academic rigor or changed discipline policies in order to hold different races — specifically blacks and Latinos — to a different standard than white students. But, again, we don’t need to look at other districts. We have the work being done in our district.

The equity audit points to a need for our district to raise — not lower — standards and academic expectations for minority students. The equity audit also suggested no changes to our district’s discipline policies.


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