Tim Schochenmeier, superintendent for Central Schools, spoke to the NYA Area Chamber of Commerce about the upcoming levy questions that would be appearing on the ballot. He went over the needs, where the district stands, and what would happen in the best and worst case scenarios.
“No one ever wants to go out and tell people they’re raising your taxes,” said Schochenmeier. “But when I see that we are going to have trouble with our mission with our students, I know that this is something I have to do.”
The previous operating levy referendum for Central ended in 2007, and though the budget has been appropriate for quite some time, last year saw a drastic change. With their initial budget, the hope with to add roughly $224,000 to the fund balance for future use. Instead, the school experience a deficit of over $400,000, a $700,000 difference according to Schochenmeier. There are multiple reasons for this, one being the fact that roughly 40 students left the district through open enrollment, he stated. And like many other districts, despite keeping the budget balanced for the last few years, the strain of inflation it starting to be felt by the district.
This year, residents for the district will have two questions presented to them. The first is a general operating levy referendum, which goes to all operations around the district. Whether that’s staff salaries, new supplies, or replacing equipment, this broad levy covers nearly everything except facilities. The other question is what’s called a capitol project levy, and this levy would over a large technological update for the elementary and middle schools, as Schochenmeier stated the two schools hadn’t received the same technology attention as the high school.
As a way to make his point, Schochenmeier told the chamber some of the various issues the students are presented with.
“We have Social Studies textbooks where Bill Clinton is still president,” he said. “That’s not a joke.”
Those aren’t the only supplies issues that Central is facing, either. Nearly every class needs updated supplies, from books to general needs in a classroom. On the technological side of things, some of the computers are still running Windows XP, and many programs on them are too out of date to even function for student use. The switches, which are used to divide internet broadband, are a nightmare of wires, and difficult to work with. Many teachers don’t have the ability to show some of the material simply because it’s in a format that they cannot use.
All in all, despite working hard to stay within budget and work with what they’ve got, the staff and teachers of Central are reaching the point where the challenges presented by their outdated supplies are reaching a breaking point.
So what are the consequences of each decision? Schochenmeier stated that in a worst case scenario, that being if both questions were denied, Central schools would have to make some serious cuts in the curriculum over the next three years. In order to maintain the fund balance and be within budget, a reduction of $1.5 million would be made over those three years, approximately $500,000 per year on average.
“We would have to reduce programs and increase class sizes,” he said. “We don’t want to do that.”
If only one question passes, the result would be the same, but less drastic. However, if both pass, the fund balance will continue to grow and the budget would be stable. The added bonus would be updating supplies and staying competitive with the other schools in the area, which Schochenmeier emphasized.
“We aren’t going to be suddenly having more funding than the other schools in the area,” he said. “We’ll stay competitive, but we’re not trying to compete with Minnetonka or Waconia.”
In fact, many of the other schools surrounding Central are also going to the vote for levies, so Central isn’t suddenly going to shoot up in the ranking in terms of revenue, according to Schochenmeier. It truly is about maintaining the classroom needs as well as their programs.
As far as updates that will happen regardless of the levies passing, Schochenmeier stated that he and staff are working hard to make things better in many little ways. One example of this is installing LED lights throughout the schools, which would amount to $55,000 in savings per year, though the initial installation of course has a cost associated. The website will also be receiving a much needed update, according to Schochenmeier, though there are no details as of yet on what that update is going to look like.
One question a chamber member asked is what happens at the end of 10 years, when these levies would expire. Schochenmeier answered that if the budget was still stable after those 10 years, the decision would be drop-off or renew the levies at that point. If maintained, the vote would be for a zero-tax impact referendum, which means nothing would change tax-wise.
Voting will take place on Nov. 5 at Central High School, and the two questions are separate. The total impact, if both are approved, would be $16.99 per month on the average home of $230,000. The questions for the levies will also be alongside voting for school board candidates. For more information on the levies, check https://www.referendumcentral.org.