What value does Eden Prairie place on public education?
That’s what local voters will decide by the end of election day on Nov. 8, when they will have opted to approve or reject two referendum questions posed by Eden Prairie Schools.
These questions relate to two tax levies that will help fund the district’s operating budget (which pays for programs and learning) and capital projects budget (which pays for technology and security).
In a town hall last month, Superintendent Josh Swanson said that passing the referendums will strengthen the district’s financial position so it can continue providing a strong education to students, plus attract and retain top-quality staff and teachers.
Swanson said passing the operating levy will fund individualized learning programs, advanced and expanded course offerings, mental health services, smaller K-3 class sizes, and support and training of teachers and staff.
Passing the capital project levy will enable EP Schools to continue providing tech-focused learning and career training; support student devices, classroom tech and teacher training; pay for school security technology; provide data security; and maintain and update technology infrastructure.
Swanson said that if both levies are passed, EP Schools can avoid cuts to programs and technology for another five years. Rejecting either or both will result in major cuts to educational programs and staff and increase class sizes, as well as reduce the technology budget.
Dominic Kirkpatrick, president of the Eden Prairie Education Association, said passing both referendum questions is “fundamental to our work to benefit students. The primary mission of our union is to work on behalf of our students to make sure the resources are available to serve our students the best we possibly can.
“When you’re a professional educator, you know the tools you need to do your job,” Kirkpatrick continued. “I liken it to a doctor having a fully equipped hospital: whatever is required for my needs, I would want to be available.
“When people are voting yes, they are giving education professionals all of those resources to provide for individual student needs,” she said.
Tim Beekmann, principal of Eden Lake Elementary School, said passing the referendums will allow EP Schools “to continue the great work that we’ve been doing with personalized learning. When you have the ability to really connect with kids at a deep level and they’re not just a number, that impacts everybody.”
Beekmann said, “EP is committed to the whole child — we want to have kids in music and languages, to help create a more rounded and robust experience.”
The referendum will help fund these and other equitable enrichment opportunities, he said, including a new school-wide program called Inspire Choice, currently being piloted at Eden Lake and Cedar Ridge Elementary.
“That is what we are able to do with our referendum passing — really connect with kids in a smaller group setting with their interests and passions, and also center professional learning,” he said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’d have to look at reductions in those programs.”
EP School Board member Aaron Casper said, “As students transition into middle school and prepare for high school, providing those personalized learning opportunities allows each and every student to explore their own interests and discover where their talents and futures may lie before they graduate, so they’re better situated when they get their diploma.”
Casper said, “It’s really necessary and critical for our district to continue to provide those things that our community values and has asked for to benefit its students.”
What’s on the ballot?
EP Schools is asking voters to approve a two-question referendum.
Approving Question 1 would revoke the current operating levy of $1,815.27 per student and replace it with a levy of $2,075.27 per student. The tax impact would be less than $8 per month in property taxes for an Eden Prairie home valued at $430,000. Learn more here.
Approving Question 2 would renew the previously-approved capital project levy at the same level. This levy funds technology infrastructure such as student devices, classroom technologies, and teacher training. Passing this levy has no additional property tax impact. Learn more here.
Voters can also learn more about the referendum by watching this video.
How EP Schools funding works
For voters wondering why these referendums are necessary, it’s due to how schools are funded.
About 70% of the district’s funding comes from the state, and each school receives the same per-pupil funding. However, while state funding has increased over the past 20 years, this funding stream has not kept pace with inflation.
Swanson said this has created an ongoing and increasing gap of about $12 million in necessary funding for EP Schools. This means the district needs to ask the community to adjust or maintain property taxes, to help close the gap in state aid.
Casper called the levies a “prudent ask” of the community. “We only ask when we really need it,” he said. “We’ve stretched the budget and state funding out as far as it can realistically go.
“We really need the levies to support the learning and those things we’re doing in the Eden Prairie community. Without that community support, it would be impossible to produce that excellence.”
He added, “I think the value proposition that Eden Prairie Public Schools brings to the community is unparalleled. It’s unique, and one of the reasons we’re able to do that is because we have a very good mix of both residential and commercial tax bases.”
He said, “It’s really a point of pride as I’ve gotten to know more about what our educators, staff members, and administrators are doing on a day-to-day basis for our students. It’s pretty impressive, and something we should be proud to support.”
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