Maintaining class sizes a high priority, but Bittman stops short of promising they will be lowered

Funds from a proposed $113 million Independent School District 728 referendum would be used to lower class sizes, Superintendent Daniel Bittman said at a school board meeting on Monday.

“Lowering class sizes is a priority for us,” Bittman said. “Our current system is not sustainable. If the referendum does not pass, we will be forced to make budget cuts.”

Bittman, however, stopped short of promising lower class sizes, noting there is no way to know that for sure as there are too many variables.

On Nov. 5, district residents will see two referendum-related questions on the ballot – the second of which cannot pass unless the first is approved. The first asks to increase the district’s operating levy by $750 per student.

According to the question, these funds would be used for school materials, student support and academic programs. The second requests $113 million in bond funding to be used for addressing “enrollment growth, deferred maintenance needs, flexible learning spaces and facility inequities.”

According to its website, the district has grown 8% over the last decade, a trend which doesn’t seem to be slowing. An additional 2,000 students are expected in the next decade, with an estimated 2,300 new single-family homes expected to be built within the district in the next three years, according to the website.

During an enrollment update at the school board meeting on Monday, Research and Assessment Director Joe Stangler said 2019 will be no exception to this growth rule. On the fifth day of the school year, there were 277 more students than the same time last year.

Most of the growth came from the southern region of the district, though it was spread evenly among the elementary, middle and high schools, Stangler said.

If funding from the state matched inflation, the district would have received $9 million more in the 2018-19 school year, and each year, the district pays $10.5 million out of the general budget to cover costs that are “not reimbursed from state or federal sources,” according to the district’s referendum website.

In other action at the Sept. 9 meeting, the board:

•Heard an initial presentation about the preliminary tax levy. At the moment, the district is looking at a 2.67% increase, Business Services Executive Director Kim Eisenschenk said during the presentation. The board will review a preliminary levy at the next meeting on Sept. 23. The final levy can be lower than the approved preliminary levy, but it cannot be higher. The board will consider and approve the final levy amount after a public meeting in December.

•Listened to a presentation from Stangler on ISD 728 test results for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the Every Student Succeeds Act exam and the Advanced Placement tests. Students in ISD 728 generally outperform Minnesota students as a whole, according to the test results. For AP tests, 63% of students who took the subject exams earned a 3 or higher – often, a 3 is required to receive college credit for those courses. While students can take an AP class and not take the exam, 84% elected to take the test.

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