The Eden Prairie School Board voted Monday night to bring two funding referendums before city voters in this November’s election.
One referendum would renew the technology levy that is set to expire in 2025. The other would seek to renew and increase the operating levy that is also set to expire in 2025.
The technology levy is currently used to support the school district’s technology infrastructure. This includes student devices, classroom technologies, and training for teachers. The language approved by the board Monday night would renew the levy at the same level it was passed in 2013. This would result in no new taxes for Eden Prairie residents and would supply the district with approximately $7.9 million each year.
The school’s operating levy provides a major source of funds for the district. The original levy was passed in 2014 and was intended to be used as a source of funding for five years. District officials have managed to extend the life of the funds, but as they look to the future, they are anticipating having to make budget cuts if the levy is not renewed. The operating levy currently generates about $16.2 million every year.
In an attempt to counter the effects of inflation, Superintendent Josh Swanson recommended the board approve an increase of the operating levy of $260 per pupil unit. If approved by voters, this will translate into roughly a $7.50 increase each month in property taxes on the average Eden Prairie household.
Swanson said the district will use these increased funds to attract and retain teachers, expand and evolve educational choices, and keep class sizes down.
Board chair Adam Seidel brought forward the motion to bring referendums on the levies to the voters this fall. It ultimately passed with a 6-1 vote, with only board member C.J. Strehl voting against it.
“I want this to pass. I support the operating levy, I support the referendum. I still think we need to do hard homework as the board to see if $260 is the right number,” said Strehl as the board discussed the motion.
Many other board members chimed in with the sentiment that they believed the community would see the value the schools bring to Eden Prairie and would support the increase.
Board member Francesca Pagan-Umar pointed to the success the high school has had in increasing graduation rates, and the increase in choices students have in selecting their classes.
“Is this worth $7.50 a month? No, it’s worth way more,” she said.
Board members Kim Ross and DD Dwivedy pointed to polling that the board commissioned in the spring that found broad support for the proposed levy increase.
However, Strehl argued that constituents might find themselves in different financial straits in the fall. He worried that “people are going to have a very different perspective in November.”
Board vice-chair Aaron Casper contended that if the community voted to turn down the levy increase, that would simply mean the board would have to go back to the drawing board. He insisted that he thought bringing this to voters during a midterm election was the right thing to do as it would result in higher voter turnout than usual.
Board treasurer Steve Bartz echoed Casper and said, “the executive finance team has given us every reason to trust them on this. I believe it is in the best interest of the community to have their say in the midterm.”
Ultimately, Seidel closed the discussion and brought the issue to a vote.
“To me this referendum is about community support,” he said. “It’s about our local community making a decision for our local schools. I’m confident that our community will view this as a worthwhile value.”
The district will now draw up the specific language that will appear on the November ballots.