Growing student population, inadequate state funding are key factors

Continuing enrollment growth, facilities issues, inadequate state funding and support for classroom technology are driving funding needs in the Wayzata Public Schools, district officials say.

A presentation by Superintendent Chace Anderson, given May 8 to the school board during its regular meeting, highlighted the various pressures on the district’s budget.

“The goals of this particular presentation are to review a bit of our enrollment context to outline some facilities needs, to share some additional budget issues and to provide a proposed decision timeline for your consideration,” Anderson said to the board.

With a current enrollment of approximately 11,200 students, this year marked the first time the district has exceeded the 11,000-student mark. And if current housing trends continue, the district could grow by another 1,000 K-12 students by 2019. That’s according to a housing and enrollment study, which indicates new housing developments are being built two to three times more rapidly than developers had projected in the north, and there is stable enrollment growth in the southern part of the district as older homes turn over to younger families.

“We’re finding that often times the families that move in have early education children and/or elementary children, so we’re experiencing a pretty significant growth of relatively young families,” Anderson said.

Meadow Ridge, the district’s eighth elementary school, opened last fall north of Wayzata High, in one of the fastest growing areas in the district. An expansion, which district officials decided to move forward sooner than anticipated, will add another 10 classrooms and make room for an additional 150 to 175 students when it is completed in the fall of 2018. The cost to build Meadow Ridge was about $26 million and another $6.2 million for the addition.

According to the district, projections suggest there is enough space at the middle schools and high school through at least 2030 due to the recent expansion of Wayzata High and moving early childhood programs from Central Middle School to the new Early Learning School.

“We think for a number of years into the future, our high school and middle school capabilities are going to accommodate growth for many years into the future,” Anderson said.

In February, members of the Growth Task Force recommended that a ninth elementary school be built to accommodate the increasing student population. The 25-member task force was assembled by the district to review student enrollment, housing trends and demographic data and advise the school board on how to plan for anticipated growth at the elementary level.

The superintendent also noted some additional facility needs that have been identified in the district, including traffic flow and pedestrian safety issues at the elementary schools and Central Middle School, cafeteria space concerns at Central Middle School, outdated elementary media centers and performing arts space improvements at East and West middle schools.

As the school district puts together its 2017-18 budget, which will come before the school board for approval next month, it is considering a bond referendum for the construction of a new elementary school and addressing facility needs.

In 2014, voters approved more than $109 million in bond funding to expand Wayzata High School, build Meadow Ridge Elementary and make upgrades to safety, security and technology infrastructure district wide.

The board will also look at whether the district needs to ask voters to increase the district’s operating levy, something it hasn’t done since 2005. Wayzata’s operating levy is lower than most neighboring districts and $500 less per student than the amount allowed by state law. The levy contributes $18 million, or 14 percent, to its annual budget, which is the source of funding for teachers, support staff, classroom supplies and other school operating needs.

Wayzata – like many Minnesota school districts – relies heavily on voter-approved levies to provide additional funding for schools and programs, Anderson said, adding that budget projections show increased operating funds are needed to maintain class sizes, keep up with growing enrollment and provide students with support services.

The school board will also consider whether or not to move forward with a district technology levy that will soon expire. The levy provides $3.4 million per year.

“These are funds that we use to replenish computers, iPads and other technology systems that we use for instruction and also to fund some of the support staff and the professional development staff for implementation of the technology systems,” Anderson said.

The district has two technology levies – the other was approved for renewal by voters in 2014 at approximately $2.7 million annually.

If moved forward, the school board would create the referendum funding questions at its July 10 meeting and the requests would come before voters in November.

School district officials are also waiting for the state to finalize its budget as the legislative session comes to a close.

“We’ve been working with CFAC, our Citizens Finance Advisory Committee, to prepare scenarios and to address our growth and our funding needs, and we’ll continue to use all of the financial tools that are available to us and as always, seeking to minimize the tax impact to our residents and to our community and always being prudent as well. So those are some of the things again that additional conversations and outcomes of the legislative session will be in the mix for the discussions that we have in the coming weeks,” Anderson said.

The district contends that inadequate state funding is putting increasing pressure on the district’s operating budget. Since 2009, state funding increased an average of just over one percent per year while costs increased by three percent – forcing the district to cut more than $16 million from its operating budget during that same period.

“We’ve done our best to try to minimize the direct impact on classrooms, but there have certainly been indirect impacts in regard to the levels of support and programming that we’re able to move forward,” Anderson said.

According to a budget survey from the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, a two percent funding formula increase would mean a $1.55 million shortfall for 2017-18 in Wayzata Public Schools.

“It’s been challenging over the last several years because the state education funding formulas have not kept pace with the rate of inflation that we’ve experienced and as a result of that, it’s increasingly challenging us to find ways to present you with a balanced budget,” Anderson said.

The school board will review the budget at a May 22 work session, with final approval expected at the board’s June 12 regular meeting. At that meeting, the board will also decide what direction to give administration about requests for voter-approved funding.

Contact Jason Jenkins at jason.jenkins@ecm-inc.com.

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