Referendum 2015 FAQ

We've compiled a list of common questions and answers. This list will be updated as more questions are received.

Q: What are the ballot questions?

A: There will be two questions on the November 3, 2015 ballot.

Question 1: Operating Levy Increase - a request to increase the operating levy by $433/ pupil to lower class sizes and maintain educational programs. This amount maximizes a state contribution to operating funds, thus lessening the burden on local property taxes. (The actual ballot language will revoke the existing levy of $326.93/pupil and replace it with a new levy of $759.93/pupil, which is a $433/pupil increase.)

Question 2: Facilities Maintenance Bond - a request for a $45,320,000 bond for deferred maintenance districtwide, school safety and security improvements, and additional kindergarten classrooms in all elementary schools.

Click here to view a sample ballot.

Q: What are consequences of passage and failure?

A: Approval of Question 1 would provide an additional $433 per pupil to:
—Lower class sizes
—Maintain educational programs
—Maximize state aid, thus lessening the burden on local property taxes

If voters do not approve Question 1:
The board has determined that the district will no longer be able to fund elementary band or Kindergarten aides and it will be necessary to increase the average class sizes in grades 1-12 by eliminating teachers and academic programs.

Approval of Question 2 would provide $45,320,000 in bond funds to:
—Improve safety and security systems at all schools
—Address deferred maintenance needs districtwide, including repairs to roofs, heating/cooling systems, outdoor facilities, and parking lots
—Add Kindergarten classrooms at all elementary schools

If voters do not approve Question 2:
The board has determined that the district will need to take money from the operating fund to complete the necessary projects, addressing health and safety concerns first. This will result in increasing class sizes by eliminating teachers and programs, and not adding any Kindergarten classrooms.

Q: If approved, how long would the levy and bond last?

A: The levy would last for 10 years. The bond would last for 15 years. 

Q: When is the election and where do I vote?

A: The election is set for November 3, 2015. Combined polling locations have been set. A complete list is available here. Learn more about voting online at www.mnvotes.org.

Q: What is the tax impact to a homeowner?

A: If both questions are approved by voters, the average homeowner ($225,000 value home) would see a monthly tax increase of approximately $24 (Q1: $15.25; Q2: $8.67).  See more detailed information here.

Q: What is the tax impact on agricultural land?
A: If you own agricultural land you may find out the tax impact of the upcoming referendum by calling the Ehlers Property Tax Hotline or sending an e-mail message to Ehlers.

1. Find the Property I.D. number(s) for all parcels of property that you own. This number is normally shown in the upper left corner of your property tax statement.

2. Either call or e-mail Ehlers, as explained below:
a. Call the Ehlers Property Tax Hotline (Twin Cities area call 651-697-8500, or outstate call 1-800-552-1171) during regular business hours (8 to 5 Monday - Friday) and ask to speak to any member of the Education Team. Tell the Ehlers representative that you are calling about the tax impact of the Farmington School District referendum and provide the Property I.D. number(s) for your parcels.
b. Send an e-mail message to mnschools@ehlers-inc.com. Include the following information in your message: your name, a daytime phone number, your school district name, the property I.D. number(s) for all parcels of property you own within the school district, and the county or counties in which the property is located.

3. An Ehlers representative will contact your county to find the value and classification of your property, calculate the tax impact, and either call or e-mail you with the results. Please allow 1-3 days for a response.

Q: What is District 192 doing to save money?

A: By paying off loans and refinancing debt the school district is saving more than $40 million in taxpayer dollars. Farmington Area Public Schools currently spends nearly $2000 less per pupil than the average Minnesota school district. While school district enrollment has increased by nearly 14%, Farmington Area Public Schools has reduced the central office staff by 28%.

Q: The government just gave you a 2% increase in funding, why do you need more?

A: For more than a decade, state education funding has not kept up with inflation. The district just cut nearly $1 million for 2015-16 and, even with the additional state funding just received, a budget deficit is projected as soon as the 2016-17 school year. Additional funding is needed to maintain or lower class sizes, maintain buildings and maintain educational programs.

Q: Why not cut administration?

A: According to our annual audit conducted by independent auditors KDV (Kern, Dewenter, Viere, Ltd.), district and school administration costs account for less than 5% of our budget as shown on their chart here. District and school administration includes costs for the superintendent’s office, school board, school principals and school lead secretaries. The information comes from our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which goes beyond Minnesota Department of Education reporting requirements. Preparing the CFAR each year is a lengthy process that includes ten years of data and ensures we are being as transparent as possible. The CFAR process is managed by Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The District has received the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of Business Officials International for work done on the CAFR.

While school district enrollment has increased by nearly 14%, Farmington Area Public Schools has reduced the central office staff by 28%. District administration accounts for less than five percent of the district budget.

Q: Can you outsource services such as transportation, food, lawncare, …etc.?

A: The district does outsource food service and transportation. Currently, the district is exploring the possibility of sharing other services with the City of Farmington, but because this is such a small share of the overall budget it would not significantly lower the need to make cuts to classrooms and programs.

Q: Do we need a referendum to pay for iPads? / If we didn’t have iPads would we still need the referendum?

A: The legislature has consistently under-funded K-12 education and for this reason an average of 50 districts bring a referendum to vote each year. Having 1:1 iPad distribution has helped the district save costs overall by reducing the need to continually purchase and update textbooks, fewer computer labs and less paper use. Even if there were no iPads in the District we would still need to request additional funding to operate the schools, improve school security and maintain the buildings.

Q: If we close the Instructional Service Center (ISC) and relocate Gateway Academy would we still need a referendum? / Would it be more cost effective to relocate Gateway Academy?

A: The ISC houses many programs such as high school gymnastics, special education, food services, and Gateway Academy. There is not space to relocate all of the programs currently at the ISC. It would cost more to obtain new space than to maintain the space we have at the ISC, therefore it is most cost effective to keep the ISC fully functional.

Q: Is this a short-term solution to a long-term problem?

A: Every year we analyze our budget and make needed adjustments. With state funding that
has not kept pace with inflation for more than a decade and a legislature that frequently changes school district funding rules, it is very difficult for school districts to develop long-term financial solutions. However, these two requests will provide both immediate and long-term relief by virtue of their scope and levy length.

Q: Does the state provide any funding relief?

A: If approved, both Question 1 and Question 2 will be partially funded by the state, which lessens the burden on local property taxpayers. If voters approve the funding requests, the state will reduce the impact on local taxpayers by covering more than one-third of the operating levy increase (Q1) and nearly ten percent of the bond (Q2).

Q: When our property taxes go up, how much goes to the schools?  

A: Increases in property taxes do not go to the school district unless the increase is specifically due to a school levy or bond. All other property tax increases go directly to the state and into the overall state budget, unless designated for some other unit of government. Funds from the state go to school districts based on a formula; for more than a decade, that state funding formula has not kept up with inflation.

Q: What do enrollment and class size look like for 2015-16?

Enrollment numbers and average class size by building and grade level for the 2015-16 school year were reported to the Board on September 14th and can be viewed here.

Q: How were the facilities maintenance projects prioritized?

 A list of prioritized projects was presented to the Board in February 2015. The original list was further revised over time and the final breakdown is available here by building or click here to view by project type. 

Q: How are our students performing on standardized measures of achievement?

This was presented to the Board in September 2015.  It includes district results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, ACT and the district math and reading standardized assessments.  

Q: How would Special Education be affected if the referendum isn’t approved?

The Special Education program would not be directly affected, although when students are in a regular classroom the class size would be larger.

Q: Is there an update on the sale of the DSC building?

The district is actively working to sell the DSC building but at this time cannot disclose any details.

Q: Will we still receive the state aid if we only pass one of the questions?

The state aid for each question is independent of any other question on the ballot. If question one is approved, the state will provide more than 33% of the amount requested in that question. If question two is approved, the state will provide nearly 10% of the amount requested in that question.

Q: What would the reduction of class size by an average of one look like across the district? / How will the district lower class sizes at the secondary level?

A: Lowering class size by an average of one across the district would look slightly different in every building. At the elementary level it would mean hiring more teachers for the grades with the highest class sizes. At the secondary level it would mean providing more program offerings so students are spread over more classes.

Q: If both questions are approved what changes will we see in the district? / How do we know the district will remain fiscally responsible?

A: If both questions are approved, here are a few things that can be expected:
-- The district will hold community meeting to get budget input from the community
-- The district will be audited by an independent auditor
-- The reserved fund balance will rise, so that if the district is underfunded by the state it will not need to ask voters for additional funds
-- Class sizes will be lower
-- Programs will be maintained
-- Facilities will be improved, beginning with leaky roofs being fixed and security at school buildings being updated.

Q: If the referendum passes, will the district still hold flexible learning days?

A: Currently, Farmington Area Public Schools holds flexible learning days in two circumstances: during emergency closings such as snow days and on a set number of days planned in advance. The planned flexible learning days allow the district to save money, provide teachers with additional planning and collaboration time, and provide students with important experience developing 21st century skills. There are two flexible learning days planned for the 2016-17 school year. If the referendum passes, the district would likely hold to these planned days but reevaluate the use of any flexible learning days beyond that point based on feedback received from parents, students, and staff.

Q: What does the reduction in central office staff look like in actual dollars?

A: While school district enrollment has increased by nearly 14% over the last eight years, Farmington Area Public Schools has reduced the number of central office staff by 28%. We have received several questions about what this translates to in monetary savings. The costs for all central office staff in 2007-08 were $1,656,994. Through budget reductions and staff layoffs, those costs were reduced in 2015-16 to $1,551,654. If we had kept all the central office employees from 2007-08 and rolled them forward with average percent salary increases, the costs would have increased from $1,656,994 in 2007-08 to $1,950,448 in 2015-16.

Q: What is a Dectron?
A: The Dectron at the Dodge Middle School swimming pool has been cited as something that needs to be replaced. The Dectron is an Air Handling Unit specifically designed to remove humidity and efficiently recover heat that would be exhausted when fresh air is pulled into the swimming pool area. For example, the existing unit uses heat created by cooling and dehumidification to heat the pool water or reheat air that has been dehumidified. The existing unit has exceeded its life expectancy and become a high maintenance problem. We have been unable to host swimming and diving events when the Dectron is not functioning properly. For example, on October 13, 2015 a diving competition was moved to a different venue due to a return fan motor failure. In addition to reducing maintenance and increasing access to the swimming pool, a new unit would also be more energy efficient.

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