Archive | Chaska RSS feed for this section
cityhall

Get to the appoint: Chaska Ward 1 looking for a new councilor and other news

Chaska City Councilor Scott Millard resigned his seat effective at the end of the May 20 City Council meeting, and the Council has chosen to appoint a replacement to hold the seat through the end of Millard’s term.  The seat will be up for election in 2014.  Ward 1 residents who are interested in the position are welcomed to pick up an application package at City Hall (inexplicably, there’s no information on this process on the city website’s homepage).  Applications are due back by June 12, and applicants will interview with the Council on June 17.  The appointment will be made at the July 1 City Council meeting.  Don’t know if you live in Ward 1 (the southwest ward)?  Check out this map to see where to fall among the city’s four wards.  Per the Chaska Herald, former Ward 1 Councilor Gino Businaro has indicated he intends to apply.

In other news:

  • State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is attending the 2013 National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College this week.  Certainly such news can (and will) be viewed within the prism of other rumors.
  • Last week was a crazy week for politics in the Sixth Congressional District (which covers Carver and central and western Carver County) as both U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and DFL challenger Jim Graves pulled out of the 2014 race.  Former State Representative, current talk show host, and 2010 governor’s race loser Tom Emmer seems poised to jump in the race, making him the leading contender for the GOP nomination.  Meanwhile, no names have emerged on the DFL side thus far.  The Sixth is the strongest Republican district in the state, so there’s a thin bench of state legislators to pick from.  St. Cloud’s Tarryl Clark, who lost to Bachmann in 2010 before failing to secure the DFL nomination in the Eighth Congressional District in 2012, is sure to come up as a possibility.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto also lives in the Sixth, but is considered unlikely to run.  Graves would have likely stood a stronger chance to win the seat given the fundraising he’s already accumulated, which makes his decision curious.  Politicians who fear defeat are unlikely to make a difference in the long run, so perhaps Graves’s decision is less of a loss to Democratic hopes than thought.
hawklogo

A balancing act for District 112?

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) has put its E-8 and high school facility task forces on hold until fall, as the two groups wait for a refresh on demographic projections for the next decade.  A faster than expected recovery in residential construction as well as the Legislature’s recent approval of all-day kindergarten for all students may spark discussions of new facilities earlier than anticipated.

While specific decisions on boundaries and possible new school construction will now wait until 2014, the issues the task forces were wrestling with remain.  On the elementary school level, a permanent home needs to be found for La Academia (the District’s rapidly growing Spanish immersion program) and the Family Learning Center, overcrowding in the three western schools (Victoria, Clover Ridge, and East Union) has to be addressed, and a likely shortage in kindergarten rooms resulting from the Legislature’s approval of all-day kindergarten must be resolved.  At this level, the issues boil down to a numbers game — finding a way to make sure that there is sufficient building capacity to meet enrollment and then drawing boundaries in a way that make the most sense for the District as a whole.

On the high school level, the issue is more difficult and more philosophical.  There’s enough capacity in both high schools to last the District for the next decade.  Chanhassen High School has (and is projected to continue to have) higher enrollment than Chaska High School by 200-300 students and Chaska High’s population is significantly more diverse (on a percentage basis, there are nearly three times as many non-white students and students receiving free or reduced lunches compared to Chanhassen High).

Although the Chanhassen facility is newer, the two schools now essentially provide the same amenities, with the exception of a “black box” theater, after the District has invested nearly $3 million in renovations to Chaska High since 2011.

The feeder system for the two high schools is based strictly on city lines — something that was strongly promoted by city leaders in both Chanhassen and Chaska and is easy to explain and understand.  Could this change?  Well, it’s possible.  The unbalanced enrollment and demographics between the two high schools is an issue which some feel should be addressed.  Does drawing boundary lines based on city limits do the best service to all of the children served by the District?

How could things change?  Well, some have suggested moving away from city boundaries for the high schools and moving to an elementary-school based feeder program (3 or 4 elementary schools could be designated to feed into each high school).  Other thoughts on balancing include using different geographical boundaries to split the District among the two high schools.  But there’s also plenty of folks who would favor keeping things just as they are today.

What do you think?  Take the polls below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

survey-says

Survey says: District 112 evaluates referendum options

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) School Board has begun weighing potential referendum questions for this fall’s ballot.  This would be the first ballot question since 2011′s failed technology levy, as the District passed on putting any questions on the 2012 ballot.

It’s a virtual certainty that there will be one referendum question on the ballot, as two operating levies representing $8.7 million in annual funding (or just under 10% of the District’s general fund) expire after the 2013-14 school year, meaning that they must be extended this year, or significant cuts would be required.

But it’s the potential for other questions is where it gets interesting.  As noted in this week’s Chaska Herald, the District has surveyed residents on a number of possible referendums in recent months, including:

  • A $2.3 million technology levy (54% support/strongly support in the survey)
  • School security facility improvements (64%)
  • Dedicated facility for early childhood education (55%)
  • Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver (46%)
  • New swimming pool (38%)
  • Theater facility at Chaska High School (38%)
  • Construction of a domed athletic facility (38%)
  • New soccer/lacrosse fields (28%)

The last four items on the above list are dead on arrival.  And, despite the favorable survey results for the technology levy, going back to that well again may not prove to be wise.  That leaves us with three items for consideration, and let’s look at the case for and against each of them:

School security facility improvements:  FOR: These changes would largely update some of the older schools in the District to reconfigure and update entrances and other security features.  An example of such a change would be at Jonathan Elementary, where the front entrance of the school would be changed to funnel visitors through the office instead of into the school’s main floor hallway. AGAINST: Since Newtown, District schools have made staffing adjustments as required to help monitor entrances that are antiquated in their design.  Could these processes be continued less expensively than making facility upgrades?

Dedicated facility for early childhood education:  FOR:  Today, early childhood programs are spread across multiple facilities in the District (including Chaska High School and Bluff Creek and Chanhassen Elementary Schools).  The District’s E-8 Task Force has been looking at different options for siting early childhood programs, but the enrollment crunch at the elementary schools and the possible changes in high school boundaries puts these programs in the lurch.  A dedicated facility would provide stability for these programs, which could increase utilization and improve efficiency (staff today frequently has to travel between buildings). AGAINST:  Having multiple locations for early childhood programs can also be an advantage, as it can also drive enrollment.  A Chanhassen resident, for instance, may not be interested in driving their child westward in the morning to a centralized facility but could take advantage of programs currently in Chanhassen elementary schools.  Also, if a new elementary school is built, might existing space (like the Kindergarten Center) be adapted instead?  This is also a potentially expensive project, depending on location and size.

Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver:  A new elementary school in the western portion of the District is inevitable at this point, based on the sudden burst of new residential development in Southwest Chaska, Carver, and Victoria this year as well as legislative actions like the move to universal all-day kindergarten.  And while the District can likely muddle along with the current facilities for three to five more years, the right time to buy land for a new school may be now.  Why?  Historically low interest rates and low property values.  Waiting to buy the land until the school must be constructed could cost District taxpayers millions in increased expense and interest.  It’s also fairly standard practice to secure land before securing the funding for construction, so as not to be delayed when you actually do need to build the school.  For instance, the District acquired the future Chanhassen High School property via a levy passed in 2004 — five years and an additional referendum before the building was built and opened.  AGAINST:  Why spend a significant amount of money on buying land until it is absolutely necessary to do so?

It’s unlikely, of course, that District would put all three of these items on the ballot in addition to the operating levy renewal.  How should the School Board and Superintendent Jim Bauck proceed, then?

The reality is that none of the referendum questions is likely to succeed without a coordinated and coherent presentation of the facts behind the need for the referendum.  The District failed on that count with the 2011 technology levy.  From that perspective, the security upgrades have the easiest story to sell.

But if we’re truly interested in financial responsibility, the notion of buying land for the new elementary school needs to be on the table as well.  Being able to acquire land now at favorable terms makes sense, since we know that the school will need to be constructed at some point in the short- to medium-term.

Past School Boards have been very cautious about putting referendum questions on the ballot, even those that do show majority support.  Even though the concept of buying land for a new elementary school shows mixed support in the survey, it may well be the right thing to do.  And the District should fight for doing the right thing by its citizens and taxpayers.

[Photo is Family Feud host Richard Dawson, from back in the day.]

Sen. Julianne Ortman

Looking for a Republican suburban woman and other thoughts

MinnPost ran a story last week on prospective GOP candidates for Governor.  Of note in that story was a quote from prominent Republican operative Ben Golnik lamenting the fact that “the ideal candidate — a female from the suburbs” wasn’t out there.  As such, I found it interesting that the name of State Senator Julianne Ortman didn’t come up.  Ortman’s resume — in the Senate over a decade, former Deputy Majority Leader, a caucus leader on tax and legal issues — stacks up comparably against many of the other named contenders.  And she’s one of the Senate GOP’s better communicators, as evidenced by her continuing high profile despite not holding a formal leadership position anymore.

I have no idea if Ortman is interested in higher office — perhaps she’s signaled she’s not, which is why she didn’t make this piece.  But it seems that for many, the list of women available for statewide runs in the Minnesota Republican Party ends with Laura Brod now that Amy Koch is out of the Senate.

Given that the current list of prospective candidates all have significant question marks as it relates to their ability to either earn the Republican endorsement or win a general election — Sen. Dave Thompson might be too conservative for a statewide election, Rep. Kurt Zellers was widely criticized for his leadership (or lack thereof) last session as Speaker of the House, Sen. David Hann was an also-ran in the 2010 race for Governor, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has perhaps spent too much time on gun issues for the base’s liking, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has already lost one statewide race (Attorney General in 2006) — it seems maybe the list of usual suspects should be expanded.  But, of course, I doubt the Republicans are looking to me for advice.

Here are some other things happening in the community:

  • In case you haven’t already heard, two new restaurants opened in Chaska in the last week or so:  BullChicks in Chaska Commons, and Egg & Pie Diner in downtown.  I’m hearing positive word-of-mouth on both.
  • The two facility taskforces convened by the Eastern Carver County School District continue to make progress.  The High School taskforce is wrestling with the question of balancing programming and demographics between Chaska and Chanhassen High Schools.  Meanwhile, the Early Childhood through Middle School task force is working on finding the best way to deal with overcrowded schools on the west side of the District as well as finding a permanent home for the La Academia Spanish immersion program.  I am a member of the Early Childhood through Middle School task force  and I can attest to the difficult challenges that lie ahead here.  Over the next few months, there will be opportunities for public input on potential changes — I encourage you to keep your eyes open and attend those sessions when they occur.
hawklogo

Hawks and Storm jump to newly formed Metro West Conference

District 112′s athletic and activities programs will jump to the newly formed Metro West Conference, which will begin play in the fall of 2014.  Chanhassen and Chaska High School will join Bloomington Kennedy, Bloomington Jefferson, Robbinsdale Cooper, St. Louis Park, and Richfield in the new conference.

The new conference will provide the Hawks and Storm with opponents closer geographically, similar in enrollment, and many of them (like the Bloomington schools and Robbinsdale Cooper) are multi-high school districts.

Chaska and Chanhassen both leave the Missota Conference, which will also lose Shakopee and Farmington at that time as well (both of those schools are moving to South Suburban, effectively taking the place of Bloomington schools).  The Missota will be down to four schools at that time, and if it fails to add more schools it will be broken up by the Minnesota State High School League.

Creation of the new conference has been rumored for quite some time, as District 112 ran into significant opposition from schools in the Missota over issues like the combined girls hockey program.

You can read the full press release on the District 112 website.

hoppe

Hoppe backs judicial retention election constitutional amendment

State Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) has signed on as a co-author on H.F. 1083 that would fundamentally change the way judges are selected and elected in this state.  The bill would place a constitutional amendment before voters asking them to replace traditional judicial elections, where candidates can challenge incumbent judges, with judicial retention elections.  How would a judicial retention election work?

  • Incumbent judges would be subject to a yes-or-no retention vote at the end of their six-year term on the bench.  
  • Winners of the retention vote would get another six-year term; losers of the retention vote would lose their spot on the bench at the end of their term.
  • The governor, selecting from a pool of candidates vetted by a bipartisan merit selection commission, would appoint a replacement.  The replacement would face a retention vote in the first election occurring more than one year after they were appointed.  (For instance, if a judge were appointed in 2015, they would face a retention vote in 2016.  A judge appointed in 2016 would face a retention vote in 2018.)
  • A Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission would be established with the purpose of providing feedback to voters on the judge’s performance — assigning them to one of three categories (“Well-qualified”, “qualified”, or “not qualified”).  Evaluations would be completed and published at the midway point of the judge’s six-year term as well as in the year of their retention election.

Supporters of the bill point to the fact that about 90% of judicial elections are unopposed today, meaning that even “unqualified” judges may be getting a free pass to another term on the bench.  They also suggest that retention election will work to get money out of judicial elections, lessening the possibility of moneyed interests essentially buying a judgeship.

Opponents of the bill point out that in some ways, judicial elections lessen accountability by putting selection of judges solely in the hands of the governor.  Additionally, there are concerns about the standards to be used by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.  The bill specifies the following as criteria to be used:  “knowledge of the law, procedure, integrity, impartiality, temperament, respect for litigants, respect for the rule of law, administrative skill, punctuality, and communication skills.”

What is excluded from these criteria include measures of a judge’s quality of work.  The language of the bill specifically excludes looking at measures like how often their opinions are overturned by higher courts or statistical studies of how their sentences compare with sentencing guidelines.  Such data is readily available and should be included in any comprehensive evaluation of judicial performance.

Local judicial activists have indicated preferences for candidates (legislative and judicial) who are opposed to retention elections.

I’m inclined to agree with the opponents of judicial retention elections.  Retention elections do not create accountability and transparency to the extent supporters claim they do — in fact, on net, they tend to limit public input on judges.  Being able to directly challenge an incumbent judge — even if rare and even if rarely successful — is important and shouldn’t have additional layers of bureaucracy placed in between the people and their preferences.  Minnesota has campaign finance law that has been reasonably effective in limiting the influence of moneyed interests from influencing judicial election results and the political parties themselves have exercised restraint in turning these elections into partisan sideshows.

(Additionally, it should be pointed out that this yet another example of Rep. Hoppe backing yet another constitutional amendment while claiming not to like legislating that way.)

Rep. Ernie Leidiger

Highway 212 expansion bill introduced and other happenings

Here’s a roundup of some of the happenings around the area:

  • A bill has been introduced in the State Legislature (chief authored in the House by Rep. Ernie Leidiger and in the Senate by Sen. Julianne Ortman) to expand U.S. Highway 212 to four lanes from Jonathan Carver Parkway to County Road 43 in Dahlgren Township.  Also included in the bill is $8 million for construction of an interchange at US-212 and County Road 140 in Southwest Chaska.  This bill would be a critical next step in making sure that US-212 is built out to four lanes to Norwood-Young America.  Additionally, the CR-140 interchange is critical to the success of the Southwest Chaska Master Plan recently ratified by the City Council.  This is a good bill and I hope it will be included in the omnibus transportation package this year.
  • State Representative Joe Hoppe submitted his year-end campaign finance report on February 25, some three-and-one-half weeks late.  Of note in Hoppe’s report is that he collected over $1,700 in “special source” funding in 2012 that he was forced to return.  “Special sources” include lobbyists, political party units, and political action committees.  Additionally, Hoppe’s penchant for filing late in 2012 cost him over $2,600 in late fees with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.  Some fiscal responsibility…
  • The City of Chaska City Council meeting tonight has been cancelled.
  • The Chaska Hawks girls basketball team (ranked #7 in Class AAA) will play Richfield (ranked #2 in Class AAA) on Thursday night with a berth in the State Tournament on the line.  The Hawks romped past Benilde-St. Margaret 69-41 on Saturday to reach the section final.  The game will be at 7 p.m. at Minnetonka High School.
  • On the Chaska restaurant front, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is open in Chaska Commons, while downtown’s Egg & Pie Diner is headed for a mid-March opening.  Construction is also underway at the future location of BullChicks in Chaska Commons.

More pizza pizza for Chaska

According to the staff report for Monday’s City Council meeting, Little Caesar’s Pizza is planning on going into the former Domino’s Pizza location in the Brickyard Shopping Mall.  The opening date is yet to be announced.

Also of note in the staff report is the fact that two developers are moving forward on plans to start development in Southwest Chaska, both with intentions of breaking ground this summer.  That’s excellent news!

Chaska High School on lockdown after threat [UPDATED]

A threat received this morning has prompted Chaska High School to go into lockdown.  Students and staff that were in the building are being kept there.  Buses were diverted to Pioneer Ridge Middle School, which has also been placed on lockdown as a precaution.  CHS students and staff not at school are being encouraged to stay at home until the all-clear is given.  No injuries or unusual activity have been reported.  All students at CHS and PRMS are safe.

For continuing updates, follow these links:

Chaska High School website

Chaska High School Twitter feed

Pioneer Ridge Middle School website

[UPDATE, 10 a.m.]:  All Eastern Carver County schools are in external lockdown, meaning all doors are locked and no visitors are being allowed.

[UPDATE, 10:15 a.m.]:  Per the District’s Facebook page, external lockdown will be lifted for other Eastern Carver County district schools at noon.

[UPDATE, 10:30 a.m.]:  Several CHS parents have reported receiving e-mails indicating that the school will be closed for the day, and students inside the school will be released around 10:45.

[UPDATE, 10:45 a.m.]:  All after-school activities will go on as scheduled.  The Family Learning Center is closed for the day.

[UPDATE, 1:15 p.m.]:  The District’s webpage indicates that the Chaska police has cleared the building and it is free of threats.

Klobuchar

Eastern Carver County takes some steps in a moderate direction

Every election cycle, we get the requisite story about Carver County’s long history of voting Republican.  2012 was largely a continuation of that trend, with Mitt Romney racking up nearly 60% of the vote in the County, and Congressional and Legislative Republicans winning re-election.  But there were some signs that the “suburbanization” of eastern Carver County may be starting to make Chanhassen and Chaska look more like their Hennepin County neighbors than like the rest of Carver County.

Let’s start off with the U.S. Senate race.  For the first time in recent memory, a Democratic candidate won the county.  Senator Amy Klobuchar cruised to victory by a double-digit margin over Republican nominee Kurt Bills.  Klobuchar won eight of the nine precincts in House District 47B (all of Chaska, precincts 3-5 of Chanhassen, and precincts 1-2 of Victoria), and tied with Bills in the ninth.  Much of that has to do with Bills’s historical weakness as a candidate, but it also speaks to the kind of Senator Klobuchar has been.  (Keep in mind, Klobuchar lost Carver County six years ago to Mark Kennedy).  Klobuchar has taken a moderate, low-key approach in the Senate, focusing on consumer issues and taking centrist positions on civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as many business issues.

Another notable result was on the marriage amendment.  If you look at House District 47B, the marriage amendment lost by nine points (45.4% yes vs. 54.6% no/no-vote).  The weak performance of the marriage amendment (compared to expectations) in traditional Republican areas like Carver County can in large part explain why it failed on a state-wide basis.

Interestingly enough, this vote puts eastern Carver County’s legislators, State Sen. Julianne Ortman and State Rep. Joe Hoppe, squarely in opposition with a large block of their constituents (While Hoppe’s 47B voted solidly against the amendment, 47A voted in favor of the amendment, allowing it to win SD 47 with 50.1%).  Both voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot, and Ortman fought back hard against allegations that she hadn’t been supportive enough of the amendment during her campaign for the GOP endorsement against Bruce Schwichtenberg.  Will Ortman and Hoppe back off of their support for their party’s divisive social agenda?

Meanwhile, the Carver County Commissioner races continued to show trends began in 2010.  In that cycle, the three incumbent commissioners on the ballot withstood challenges from the right.  This year, with all five incumbents up for re-election thanks to redistricting, all five incumbents were victorious.  Four of those incumbents fended off challenges from the right.  Tom Workman was the exception, as he was the lone incumbent who faced a less-partisan challenger.

What does this mean?  Is eastern Carver County poised to “turn blue”?  It may be too soon to say that, but it does show that demographic trends are likely over time to make this area more competitive than it has been in the past.  And Democratic candidates with the right mix of qualities can get a fair hearing from voters in these areas.  Democratic efforts should be focused on party-building and creating the infrastructure to support and develop these types of candidates that can compete and eventually win in eastern Carver County.  Klobuchar and State Senator Terri Bonoff are good examples of the sort of moderate candidates that would fit that mold.

[Edited to clarify a point on the marriage amendment, 11:20 11/13]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 399 other followers

%d bloggers like this: