$8 million in land?

(This post originally appeared on the Even Better Eastern Carver County Schools Facebook page on November 25, 2019)

You’ve probably seen some references lately to the school district owning $8 million in land that isn’t used for K-12 education. Sounds pretty scandalous, huh?

Well, as has sadly been true of many things we’ve heard from folks regarding our schools lately, there’s a whole lot less to this than meets the eye. [long post incoming, buckle up]

Let’s first break down the land that presumably makes up this $8 million figure (although the folks making the allegation have never specified the particular properties).

Property and Value (per Carver County):
* Family Learning Center (and surrounding land) — $6.480,000
* Undeveloped land in SW Chaska — $480,300
* Undeveloped land in Victoria — $1,696,300
* Land currently being used as Firemen’s Park II in downtown Chaska — $194,500

TOTAL — $8,851,100

Let’s start with the undeveloped land first. The SW Chaska land was acquired as part of the 2015 referendum vote and is the designated location for the district’s next elementary school. The Victoria land, meanwhile, appears to have been acquired as part of a 2000 referendum; however, current district leadership does not deem this to be a good site for locating a new school because of road access. The district has had discussions with the city of Victoria to locate a new site within the city for future school development and this property would likely be involved in a land swap arrangement or sold with the proceeds going towards the purchase of the new site.

As both of these sites have been purchased via referendum funding, the district would be limited in what it could do with proceeds from a sale. Those funds could only be used to retire referendum-incurred debt or be applied to certain capital projects.

The downtown Chaska property (currently being maintained and used as Firemen’s Park II by the City of Chaska) is for sale and has been for several months. This property has long been in the district’s hands, not transferring to the SouthWest Metro Educational Cooperative when the original Chaska High School building did.

So that leaves us with the Family Learning Center. The FLC is located at the former Jonathan Shopping Center and the entire site consists of 16 parcels of land. The district controls 14 of the 16 parcels – everything except for the northern of the two main buildings on the site (the two parcels are the building itself and the area just in front and to the side of the building). This building had been vacant for years until it was purchased earlier this year by Mis Amigos, a Spanish Immersion preschool with three other metro locations that is planning to open in 2020.

What would it mean to sell the FLC? Today, the FLC hosts a wide variety of programs — early childhood programs, early childhood special education, adult basic education, adult programming, community education offices, early childhood screen, early childhood family education, school readiness, and preschool.

It’s not K-12 education, but these programs are pretty important to the district’s overall mission. Study after study has shown that it’s vitally important for kids to enter kindergarten with a good foundation under them. The ECFE and parent education programs are critical to helping as many kids as possible be ready for school. The subsidized preschool programs give low-income families that might not otherwise get the chance to send their kids to preschool that opportunity.

By suggesting that the district essentially make these programs homeless — kicking preschool out of the elementary schools and selling the FLC — the people making these recommendations would be putting the most vulnerable learners in our district at risk.

Yes, the district needs to be prudent with our tax dollars. However, selling the FLC with no feasible backup plan to support these programs is not a step in that direction.

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