Frequently Asked Questions About The Levies

Why is the District asking for such a large increase?

  • The District acknowledges that the proposed levy may be burdensome. Unfortunately, the Centennial community does not benefit from a large business/corporate tax base to offset tax increases for homeowners. Being an equity poor school district, coupled with the lack of sustainable state funding, has led to a chasm. Since 2003, state funding to school districts has not kept up with cost of living increases. Had adequate cost of living increases been provided, it would have generated approximately $4.23 million for Centennial, and local referendums would not be necessary.

If you’ve already reduced staff by 60 positions and yet the District continues to excel in academics, are those positions needed?

  • The needs of kids are not diminishing, they are increasing. Over the past five years, we have reduced $9.3 million from our budget. The majority of those reductions were personnel or program and service-related. Those responsibilities to educate and support students for their academic, social, and emotional needs don’t go away. As a result of these reductions, class sizes have increased and teachers have fewer resources to meet the needs of all students, including paraprofessional support. Further cuts will significantly impact our students.
  • One significant area of concern is class sizes. Results from a survey by parents and the community indicate class size is one of their top priorities. We have the highest number of students in our classrooms in the metro according to a 2018 ECSU study. Levy funding will enable us to hire back some teachers and paraprofessionals, maintaining class sizes and decreasing class sizes in some grade levels.
  • The District has made reductions in administration. Within the last three years the Dean of Students and the Assistant Director positions at the Centennial Area Learning Center, Activities Director at the Middle School, and 2.0 full-time equivalent leadership positions in the Department of Teaching and Learning have been cut.
  • The District surveyed comparable schools in the region and gathered data on the ratio of administration/assistant principals to students. Centennial is appropriately staffed at the Middle School based on the ratios for administration to students. On average, the 10 comparable Districts have one assistant principal for every 750 students; Centennial’s ratio is one assistant principal for every 799 students. Compared to other high schools in the region, there is one assistant principal for every 650 students; Centennial’s ratio is one assistant principal for nearly 700 students.
  • Reductions of administrators at the school sites could create an unsafe environment for students and staff. Reducing one assistant principal at each secondary site would result in a ratio of 1:1,500 students at the Middle School and 1:1,050 students at Centennial High School.

How do class sizes at Centennial compare to the average size in the metro? Are class sizes at Centennial increasing?

Yes, class sizes are increasing and Centennial has above average class sizes in the metro. Centennial also no longer has instructional paraprofessionals to assist teachers in the classroom with struggling learners.

Centennial School District Class Size Averages

2009-10 2018-19 Metro Averages*
Kindergarten 20.4 22.1 21.2
Grade 1 21.8 24.8 22.1
Grade 2 23.7 25.4 23.4
Grade 3 24.8 27.3 24.2
Grade 4 29.4 30.7 25.6
Grade 5 26.7 32.9 26.4
Grade 6-8 English 28.4 32.4 26.6
Grade 6-8 Math 28.9 32.6 26.4
Grade 6-8 Social Studies 26.0 32.0 28.3
Grade 6-8 Science 26.0 33.5 28.8
Grade 9-12 English 28.0 32 27.8
Grade 9-12 Math 27.8 33 28.0
Grade 9-12 Social Studies 30.4 35 29.2
Grade 9-12 Science 25.1 30 27.8
Grades 9-12 Art 28.6 37 27.0
Grades 9-12 German, French, Spanish 20-33 36-41 26.1
Grades 9-12 Business/Technical Education 32.5 36 25.7
Health 27.8 36 30.8
Foods 31.0 36 26.5
Woods 22.8 32 23.4
Physical Education 29.5 38 29.8

*These averages are compiled by Metro ECSU from enrollment data collected from 36 Twin Cites Metro School Districts. (March 2018)

Why does Centennial accept so many open enrolled students?

Minnesota is a choice state. School districts are obligated to accept nonresident enrollment requests per guidelines specified by Minnesota Statute 124D.03. While this statute does provide some grounds for limiting nonresident enrollments, the District cannot completely close the doors to families outside the district.

Does accepting open enrolled students negatively impact Centennial’s budget?

No, when nonresident students choose to attend Centennial, the state funding that would have gone to their home district comes to Centennial. Here is why open enrollment makes a difference at Centennial:

Based on the 2017-2018 school year, open enrollment generated $10,598,130 in revenues, including state and local levy dollars. After instruction cost expenses, the net revenue for last year is $7,068,693. Without open enrollment funds, we would have over $7 million less in the budget. For every $1 million loss, it’s a reduction of twelve teachers; the loss of open enrollment dollars is equivalent to 84 teachers.

As a district, nonresident enrollments have been used to balance class sizes and maintain programming for resident students that otherwise may not be possible without the funding.

Also, fixed costs (e.g. heat, electricity, snow removal, building maintenance) would be borne exclusively by local tax payers without these added funds.

Wouldn’t class sizes be smaller without open enrolled students?

No, the additional revenues generated by open enrollment actually reduce class sizes for resident students. Without the open enrollment revenue, which exceeds the cost of hiring teachers to teach the open enrolled students, class sizes would increase significantly for resident students.

Without open enrolled students:

* Centennial would not be able to offer the necessary programs and services to students including a variety of choice/elective courses.

* Staffing would be reduced.

* Class sizes would increase.

What happens if the levy questions pass?

  • New staff will be hired in time for the start of the 2019-2020 school year. A combination of teachers (up to 14) and paraprofessionals (up to 50) will be hired.
    • Elementary Schools: Combination of teachers and instructional paraprofessionals to support student learning, based on need.
    • Centennial Middle School: Core teachers and Security paraprofessional
    • Centennial High School: Core teachers and Security paraprofessional
  • The District has a goal to be shovel-ready by the summer of 2019, depending on the availability of construction schedules.

What happens if the levy questions don’t pass?

  • If the Operational levy (Question #1) fails to pass, more staff, programs and services will be cut to balance the district’s revenues and expenditures.
  • If the Capital levy (Question #2) fails to pass, the District will not able to fully address the safety and security improvements on our high school campus.

Can money from the levy be used to support student mental health needs?

  • Yes, proceeds can be used for that purpose, however, the District plan provides more licensed teachers and paraprofessionals. Additional adults will positively impact the social and emotional needs of our students. Currently, students at each school site across the District have access to grant-funded therapist through the Lee Carlson Center.

Why has the district asked for so many levies?

  • We are an equity poor district. Approximately 20% of the districts in Minnesota have a low industry business presence in their communities. This results in our residential taxpayers and small business owners carrying more of the burden of the taxes. In Centennial, a $100,000 home is taxed $188 which results in $888 worth of revenue per student. In Hopkins, the same $100,000 homeowner is taxed $192 which results in $2,439 worth of revenue per student. That is almost a 3:1 difference.
  • Since 2003, the state of Minnesota has not kept up with inflation. The difference from that date to present has grown to $4.23 million this year in lost revenue. If the state of Minnesota had kept up with inflation and funded schools accordingly, Centennial would not have to ask taxpayers to support a levy.
  • There is a funding gap between the amount of the basic formula allowance from the state and federal government for special education and the costs to deliver special education. Local districts have few options to control the cost of providing special education services. Each student identified with special education needs must be served. The true cost of educating these learners has never been fully funded by the government. During the 2017-18 school year, this funding gap was $5.14 million; meaning, those funds had to be taken from the general budget to offset the funding gap for special education services.
  • Centennial has needs that have to be met and because of these three points, we have to ask taxpayers for support. Schools are the only government entity that has to ask taxpayers to vote for tax increases.

If the questions don’t pass, will you ask again next year?

If Centennial is unsuccessful in the 2018 campaign:

  • We would re-engage our community and school board in a dialogue to determine our next steps.
  • If we decide not to go out in 2019, Centennial will continue to make budget reductions.

Our school is consistently ranked high, so why do we need to pass a levy?

  • We are fortunate to have a highly engaged community of learners and a dedicated staff who works tirelessly to support student success. Over the last nine years, we have made $17.2 million reductions to our budget. These reductions have impacted programs and services and staffing throughout our district. Results of these cuts have created significant gaps in how we educate our students. Long-term, we cannot sustain these significant instructional losses as they have an impact on our student success. Class sizes and classroom supports will be further impacted. We are at a breaking point. We have done everything to be fiscally prudent and maintain as much of the services and programs as we possibly can. We can no longer maintain this course. We need funding now.

Is there a levy in place now? Would this increase what we’re already paying, or be all new taxes?

  • There are multiple voter-approved levies in place at this time. In 2000, voters approved a capital levy ($17,245,000) for the construction of Blue Heron Elementary. That bond will be paid off in 2023. Next is the 2014 capital levy ($49,935,000) which renovated and reimagined all of our academic buildings in our district.  In 2015, voters approved the renewal of a tax-neutral operational levy in the amount of $164.19 per pupil to maintain some of the current staff, programs, and services we provide.
  • The questions we are proposing will increase taxes. If the capital levy passes, it will increase taxes on home values of $225,000 by $5.43 per month ($22.2 million). If the operational levy passes, it will increase on home values of $225,000 taxes by $27.74 per month ($650 per student). This equates to an increase of about $1 a day.

There has been so much new construction over the past few years. Why wasn’t that money used for staff?

  • When you get paid, your money typically goes into one account. You use that money to pay for rent/mortgage, gas, groceries, clothing, etc. District funding is completely different from this practice. The district’s revenue is split into two buckets. These buckets are predetermined by statute and dollars can only be used for its intended purposes. Here are the two categories of funding:
    • The first is capital dollars. These dollars can only be used on brick and mortar projects such as roofs, flooring, HVAC systems, furniture, etc. (all the physical improvements we made in our buildings with the 2014 capital levy dollars). The 2014 capital levy dollars could not be used for any staff or operational costs in the district.

 

  • The second is operational dollars. These dollars are used to pay for our day-to-day costs of running the district. Since 80% of our costs are people, the majority of the funding goes to pay for that purpose. The additional dollars would be used for curriculum, utilities, services, etc.

Why is the district asking local taxpayers, instead of the state?

  • Centennial lobbies at the state and federal levels every year and establishes meetings with elected officials to address the inequity and the lack of adequate funding. Unless there is legislation to change current funding practices, Centennial (and other property poor districts like us) will have to rely on taxpayers to close the gap.

Do students really need access to so much technology? Why can’t we make cuts in the iPads/laptops/technology spending to balance our budget?

  • Students need to be 21st Century learners. There are very few businesses and industries that are not reliant on technology and the need for a trained, competent workforce. Centennial has technology in the district, but it’s much less than most districts around us. We are not a 1:1 district, but we do offer access to iPads, Chromebooks, and the computer lab for learning. Those resources are funded by a minimal school budget, grants, and PTA/PTO’s. As you can imagine, our technology budget is quite lean compared to districts throughout the metro. Some districts have a technology levy to pay for technology. Centennial does not. Cutting out the purchases of technology would not solve our overall budgetary issues.

 

  • Another important factor to consider is the high cost of textbooks that have a shelf-life of 7-10 years. Cognizant of that cost, the district has purchased, when feasible, web-based resources that do not wear out and have the added advantage of being dynamic and in some cases, interactive.  As previously mentioned, we are not a 1:1 district, but we do want to ensure that teachers and students continue to have access to web-based resources that enhance learning.

What would happen if we close open enrollment? Would that fix anything?

  • We would lose funding and would need to make additional cuts. Not taking open enrolled students, it would have a very negative impact on our resident students.

 

  • If 100 open enrolled students left, district revenue would be reduced by approximately $835,000. However, expenses would only be reduced by $278,000. This would result in a net loss of $557,000 for the school district and equate to the loss of roughly 9 full-time teachers. In addition to the staffing impact,  class sizes would increase, and programs and services  for resident students would be further reduced.

 

  • Per Minnesota Statute, districts must accept open enrolled students.

Why does school finance seem so complicated?

  • Because it is. Unlike home budgets, school districts are bound by restrictions and cannot freely allocate dollars based on identified needs. In the previous answers, we’ve articulated we have two categories of funding – capital and operational – that can only be used for certain purposes. We also receive federal dollars that have restrictions and stipulations on where and how we spend those dollars. We receive special education funding that is restricted to those students with disabilities who are on an IEP.  We also receive grant funding which is also tied to specific purposes. As you can see, it makes budgeting very cumbersome and difficult. That is why we are mandated to have an audit, every year, to ensure fidelity in our spending and adherence to mandates.