Looking at the history of voter-approved school levies in District 112

As we move towards the vote on the Eastern Carver County School District Technology Levy on Tuesday, November 8, there’s been a lot of discussion about the relative positioning of the district versus similar districts.  While on an operating basis, the district is one of the lowest-spending districts, the overall tax burden in the district is high because of the school construction that has occurred in recent years.

So let’s look at the different voter-approved referendum components that feed into our property tax lines.  There are essentially two kinds of referendums:  operating referendums and debt service referendums.  Operating referendums raise a per-pupil amount per year that is applied to the district’s general fund.  Debt service referendums are used for facilities (land acquisition, construction, and expansion), capital projects (technology), or funding of actuarial liabilities (such as pensions).  These referendums raise a specified dollar amount over their life.  For instance, the bonds used to build Chanhassen High School will raise $92 million over 22 years.

The technology referendum is a debt service referendum designed to raise $1.98 million per year for 10 years (or $19.8 million).

Current voter approved referendums in the District total about $31 million in the current fiscal year, with about $19 million going to debt service, and the remainder to operating referendums ($1,085 per pupil).  There are nine separate components that make up this $31 million.  They are:

Type

Expiration

Description

Debt Service

2014

facility construction (Chaska H.S.)

Operating

2014

$762 per pupil

Debt Service

2017

funding of post-retirement liabilities

Operating

2017

$323 per pupil; passed as part of Chanhassen H.S. referendum

Debt Service

2019

facility construction and expansion

Debt Service

2020

facility construction (Pioneer Ridge M.S. and Clover Ridge E.S.)

Debt Service

2021

facility construction (Pioneer Ridge M.S. and Clover Ridge E.S.)

Debt Service

2025

facility construction (Victoria E.S.) and expansion (Chaska H.S.)

Debt Service

2029

facility construction (Chanhassen H.S.)

The important thing to remember when looking at the debt service referendums is that — for the most part — the amounts collected in taxes every year to support those referendums is static.  That means that as population grows (and if property values increase), the impact of those referendums on a typical household decline over time.

Additionally, the debt service referendums drop off over time.  That is why districts that have completed their growth cycle, like Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, are seeing their overall tax levels be at lower levels than District 112 even though their voter-approved operating levies are higher.  (Minnetonka has a voter-approved operating levy $800  per pupil higher than District 112.)

Let’s look at a couple of graphs that show how these trends may impact District 112 going forward.  For these graphs, a few assumptions were made:  first, district enrollment will continue to increase at the average rate it has grown the last five years (1.3%).  Second, the current operating levies will be renewed by voters at their current levels.  Third, the technology referendum passes.  Finally, no new schools are built.  (This is a significant assumption — growth at this level will likely require the construction of an additional elementary school at some point in the decade. However, I am unable to reliably pinpoint when the school would be needed and how much it would cost.)

Here’s a graph that shows the total dollar amounts we can expect going out for the next decade:

As you can see, debt service becomes smaller and smaller over time — 30% smaller over the course of the decade.  At the end of the decade, voter-approved levy dollars will only be up by a little over 6% even though enrollment will have increased by 13%.

Let’s show that impact a little more clearly by looking at the data on a per pupil basis:

On a per-pupil basis — even with passing the technology referendum, voter-approved referendums will be below current levels in four years and will be over $600 per pupil less than today in a decade.

So, yes, this is a somewhat painful time to be a taxpayer in the school district.  But as the district approaches peak enrollment, relief will be on the way as the debt service begins to fall off.

Let’s keep our eyes on the district’s objectives — preparing students for college and employment — and not allow these transitory funding trends to cause students to miss out on critical learning opportunities.

Check out our complete coverage of the technology levy.

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