A few items you may have missed over the holiday weekend:
- After being denied by the Chanhassen Planning Commission earlier this month, Walmart is proceeding to tonight’s City Council meeting with a somewhat revised plan. The revised plan includes some changes to the two entries off of Park Road, changes to the building materials and landscaping, and replacement of the pylon sign with a monument. Additionally, Walmart has agreed to pay for the needed road improvements as part of the project. Despite these changes, city staff is still recommending that the City Council reject the proposal. You can read the full 214-page packet prepared for the Council on this issue here.
- A second new restaurant will be opening in downtown Chaska — Pistol Pete’s, a barbeque restaurant, will be taking over the former MIX/Embers location in 2012.
- Former Carver County GOP Chair Paul Zunker had his second court appearance last week. The Chanhassen Villager reports Zunker will undergo a psychological evaluation before his next court appearance in February.
The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant will be taking over the site at the northwest corner of MN-41 and Second Street. La Quebrada was the most recent tenant of the site, closing earlier in the year. Previously, the site was Mi Casa, River City Pub, and Chestnuts. Hopefully, Patron will find better success! No opening date has been set yet.
[UPDATE, February 17]: Patron is open!
In my post on why the technology referendum failed, I promised some ideas on how I think the Eastern Carver County School District could improve relations with voters. Here’s the first of those ideas — improving how the District communicates with residents, and thereby making it easier for people to understand what is going on in the District.
Here’s an example. (The point here is just to use this as a sample, not as a particular criticism of the people responsible for this document.)
Every year, the District publishes an Annual Report on Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Achievement. It’s about a 20-page document that goes into some detail about the initiatives that are underway. It’s a good document. But how many parents take the time to read it every year? How many non-parents read it or understand the efforts that are being made to raise student achievement?
There’s no reason that this document can’t be boiled down into a format that’s easier to understand and gives folks a quick read on what is happening. I took about an hour and synthesized the report into a two-page executive summary that hits the critical points and is easier to read.
Ideally, it would be even better to move the first section to a format that shows specific, measurable goals for each level and the progress against them for the previous year. But this is a start.
The same sort of logic can be applied to the financial information that the District provides. There’s a lot of information on the District website that talks about thepotential budget cutsthat were considered last spring, but not a lot of information about what the actual spending amounts in each category are. Given the referendum results, more data about how our property tax burden breaks down between operating funds and debt service would be useful.
The School Board also has responsibility here — there’s no reason that complete minutes of Board meetings shouldn’t be published online. The Summaries that are provided give no real flavor of what occurred at the meeting — they don’t even list who voted for or against given agenda items. There’s also ample reason to think that meetings should be recorded for online viewing. A few of the School Board meetings have made it to vimeo — they all should going forward.
These sorts of actions — proactively looking to get information out to the community — are just the sorts of initial (and relatively easy) first steps the District can take to reach out to those who sent a message on Election Day.
With all of the school referendum talk the past couple of months, I haven’t had a chance to talk about a few of the things going on with our city’s Parks & Recreation area. Last month, the Park Board looked at a couple of critical projects that will provide some real benefits to the community.
First, the Park Board (as well as the Planning Commission and City Council later in the month) signed off on plans to build a levy around Athletic Park at a maximum cost of $250,000. The levy would have completely protected the facility from four of the last seven flood events, and minimized the damage and time the park was out of service in the other three events. An average flood event costs the city about $30,000 for clean-up and repairs, so we can expect to make up the construction cost over time. Additionally, the Public Works Department is seeking to lower construction costs by hoping to take advantage of fill made available by other development projects in the area (such as work at the West Ridge Corporate Center on Engler Boulevard), and they believe that the final construction cost number can come in significantly lower than the figure cited above. The plan also allows for a trail to be constructed on top of the new berm. This trail fits in with the city’s long-term plans to enhance Athletic Park and provide better connections to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land adjacent to the park.
Secondly, the city is preparing to move forward on some major maintenance projects at the Chaska Community Center. The building’s core is now twenty years old, and as comes with buildings that reach that age, it is time for some key elements of the building to be refreshed. This spring, a new mechanical unit for the pool area will be installed at an estimated cost of $350,000. Current plans call for the pool to be closed on April 30, re-opening on May 22. This would be slightly longer than the pool’s usual yearly spring downtime.
The summer of 2013 will see new mechanical equipment installed in the two ice arenas. This is necessitated by regulation changes surrounding the chemicals used in the current equipment (that make it cost-prohibitive to continue as-is). Additionally, the equipment has outlived its expected life and is showing signs of its age, particularly in Rink 2. The project will also improve the ventilation of the entire arena complex. After the changes, it is expected that Rink 1 will remain ice all year, and Rink 2 will be transitioned to turf during the summer (the opposite of today) . This is a $3 million project.
Finally, $775,000 is slated to be used for other capital improvements to the facility including: roof repairs, pool deck repair, replacement of some wellness equipment, renovations to locker rooms in the arena, carpet replacement, and enhancements to the entryways. These improvements will start next year, ending in 2014.
All of these Community Center projects will be financed by revenue bonds sold by the city and repaid through increased membership, daily-use, and ice rental fees. Staff believes that they can finance these bonds while maintaining the Community Center’s competitive pricing position with peer facilities. In my capacity on the Park Board, I will work to make sure that remains the case.
For the first time since 1995, voters in the Eastern Carver County School District have defeated a referendum put forward by the School Board and Administration. Let’s dig in and try to figure out the key factors that led to the defeat of the referendum.
We’ll get the easy one out of the way first — the economy is lousy right now and this is a really bad time to be advocating for a tax increase. No further elaboration is required here. If you look at school referendums around the state, requests to renew existing levies did very well, while requests for additional funding fared much worse. Of the seven metro area technology referendums asking for new or increased amounts, four passed (Anoka-Hennepin, Edina, Mahtomedi, and Spring Lake Park) while three (District 112, Inver Grove Heights, and Stillwater) failed.
A second critical factor in the defeat of the referendum was the failure of the district to provide critical supporting information to voters. It took the District a couple of weeks after the School Board approved the referendum to get basic information on the District’s website. Detailed information showing specifically how the money would be spent came far too late in the process. Certainly, this information must have been available at the time the School Board was considering whether or not to put the referendum on the ballot.
Additionally, the district failed to articulate some of the complexities of school financing. That left the district in being forced to defensively respond to things like John Brunette’s letter to the editor as opposed to proactively explaining the factors that go into our school property taxes. After digging into the information and requesting data from the district, I felt there was a compelling case in favor of the referendum. But I can understand how some voters didn’t get the message.
The district clearly also needs to address that there is a substantial portion of the community that have real issues with some previous decisions that were made and wants to see substantive changes. They do not trust the district to make decisions in their families’ best interest. I’ve tried to point out, both here and at the Chaska Herald website, that the decision-makers who made those controversial decisions aren’t around any more, and it’s not entirely fair to blame the new Board (recall, that a majority of the Board was replaced just one year ago) and the new Superintendent for those decisions.
Nonetheless, this is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Most prominently among these issues are the real and perceived inequities between the two high schools. Voter turnout in Chaska was 20%, versus Chanhassen’s 13%. There’s clearly a reason for that. Anecdotally, there were a significant number of Chaska parents who indicated their “no” vote was designed to send a message to the district regarding these issues. Similarly, there were a number of Chaska parents energized to go to the polls to try and get funding to help close these gaps.
Another element is the perception (related to the above issue) that Chanhassen High School was either not needed and/or too luxurious. As for the “not needed” part, the numbers don’t lie there.
Between Chaska High School, Pioneer Ridge, and the two middle schools, secondary school capacity in the district was simply not sufficient. Perhaps the district could have limped along for a couple more years, but there was no way around adding more capacity. Lower grade levels show that increased enrollment is coming, and as the economy gets back on track, additional growth in the western part of the district will have the two high schools operating at higher capacities in a few years.
As for whether or not Chanhassen High School was built too expensively, opinions can differ on that. Recall, though, that voters approved the $92 million price-tag for that facility. It was not forced on to the taxpayers of the district by the School Board or the administration.
And regardless of your opinion on any of these issues, I would argue that it’s not productive to go back and re-litigate them. Sending a message by voting “no” on a referendum may make you feel good, but it doesn’t solve the problems the district faces.
There are other ways to hold school districts accountable other than just voting “no”. We can get engaged in the yearly budget process. We can get involved in our children’s classrooms. We can attend school board meetings and have discussions with the administration on critical issues.
Where do we go from here? How should the district respond to the challenges that lie ahead from a budget perspective — and more importantly, from a trust perspective? I’ve got some ideas, and I’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks.
There’s a dispute brewing over the use of out-of-state temporary workers at the Mills Fleet Farm site in Carver. Mills received a total of $3 million in subsidies and loan guarantees from the City of Carver and Carver County for the project. The Tax Increment Financing agreement between Mills and the City of Carver only calls for Mills to be required to hire 1 full-time equivalent, even though there are an estimated 1,000 unemployed construction workers in Carver County.
Carver County Commissioner Randy Maluchnik has stepped up pressure on Mills over the last week, taking to the airwaves to point out the ample availability of local workers to do the work at the site.
See more on this story from KSTP-TV here.
Voters in District 112 rejected the technology referendum by 216 votes. 3,158 voters (51.8%) voted no, while 2,942 (48.2%) voted yes. More on this later.
It is Election Day today — time to Vote Yes! in District 112. Here are the polling locations, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Residents of Carver: East Union Elementary School, 15655 County Road 43, Carver
- Residents of Chaska/Chaska Township: Chaska Middle School West, 140 Engler Blvd. Chaska
- Residents of Chanhassen:Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen
- Residents of Victoria/Laketown Township: Victoria City Hall, 7951 Rose, Victoria
Rep. Joe Hoppe appeared on KFAN Friday afternoon to discuss the Vikings stadium. Hoppe expressed willingness to support a racino or electronic pulltabs as a funding mechanism for the stadium. He also expresses a preference for the Arden Hills location versus a Minneapolis location. You can hear more at the link below.