The vast majority of funding for school district operations (85%) comes from the state of Minnesota. The balance comes from federal funding, property taxes and other local sources.
Most funding comes in the form of “per student” funding. That means that as enrollment grows, funding also increases. But with additional students also come additional costs - more teachers, more materials and sometimes more schools.
News Release from Waconia Public Schools
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
After months of discussion and review of various options, ISD 110 school board members unanimously approved putting an operating levy question on the November 3, 2020 ballot.
“We fully understand that we are in the midst of a pandemic and these are challenging economic times for many families,” Pat Devine, superintendent, Waconia Public Schools, said. “Even so, we know that access to quality education is also critically important to our residents.”
The ballot question will ask voters to consider approving a $410 per student levy increase. The resulting revenue increase of nearly $2 million per year would enable the district to maintain the educational programs, and continue to provide the quality education the community expects and students deserve. If approved by voters, the tax impact on an average homeowner ($350,000 value home) would be less than $20 per month.
ISD 110’s current operating levy is lower than most school districts in the area - and would remain so even if the levy request is approved. These voter-approved levies are one way local communities support their schools by providing funding for staff, classroom supplies, and other critical school operating costs.
“Many people may wonder why we are requesting an operating levy increase when one was approved in 2018,” Devine added. “The 2018 operating levy was expected to set the district’s finances for a number of years. But, shortly after the 2018 levy was passed, an unpredictable reduction in reimbursements from the state for special education expenses hit our district’s budget particularly hard.”
The state recently changed how it reimburses school districts for special education expenses. While the state and federal governments have never fully reimbursed these expenses - which has a negative impact on districts across the state - the change was particularly devastating for ISD 110. The amount of money ISD 110 must pull from its budget to cover those expenses nearly doubled, resulting in an unanticipated major hit to the budget.
Devine described a perfect storm that resulted in the district’s current financial challenges as an unpredictable change in how districts are reimbursed for special education costs, state education funding not keeping pace with inflation, and a strategic decision to draw down reserves rather than eliminate programs in support of the district’s commitment to academic excellence. He thanks the community for their support in 2018, without which the current situation would have been much worse.
The decision to pursue a levy increase is part of ISD 110’s state approved plan to restore the district’s financial stability after the change in how the state reimburses school districts for special education expenses sent ISD 110 into Statutory Operating Debt (SOD). When a district spends more money than it takes in and reaches a percentage of debt precisely defined by state statute, it enters SOD. Under state law, the district is then subject to budget restrictions and must develop a plan to get out of debt.
In addition to asking voters to approve a levy request to increase revenue, the district has also been making budget cuts in response to the financial challenges - about $2 million since 2018-19. While those cuts have largely been kept away from the classroom, that would not be true for future cuts. If the levy is not approved by voters, the district would need to make at least $1 million in additional cuts to the 2021-22 school year. Cuts would result in class size increases, reduced academic and mental health support for students, and less support for teachers, among other things.
“We know that we have a very supportive community and a tradition of excellence and pride in our schools,” said Devine. “ This vote is about our schools, our communities and our future. This would allow our community to determine what quality of schools we have at ONE10.”