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South Washington County Schools

Frequently Asked Questions

This set of Frequently Asked Questions will be updated as needed to address new questions. If you have a question that you do not see the answer to below, send a message to info@sowashco.org

What is a referendum?

A referendum is a general vote by the electorate that has been referred to them for a direct decision.

In addition to the revenues allowed by the state funding formula, school districts may receive additional revenues with a voter-approved levy. There are two kinds of local referenda a school district can ask voters to support. A levy referendum provides money for learning. A bond/capital referendum provides money for non-operating expenses such as buildings/technology.

Learn more about school financing here.

What is a school levy?

A school levy is a local property tax collected to help finance the education programs and operations of public schools.

Learn more about school financing here. 

What is a fund balance?

Governmental funds report the difference between their assets and liabilities as fund balance. In simpler terms, it is the amount of money left in an account after expenses are taken from revenue.

Learn more about school financing here. 

What’s on the ballot?

There are three questions on the November 7 ballot.

Question 1 (Q1) is a renewal of a $15.3 million operating levy that has been approved by District 833 voters for the past 20 years.

Question 2 (Q2) is an additional operating levy of $7.5 million that would be used to offset previous deficit spending, approved by the school board to maintain programs.

Question 3 (Q3) is a capital projects levy that would provide the district with $2 million for necessary technology expenses like updating software licenses and maintaining functional devices.

See more about each of the questions here.

How does the operating referendum in Q1 impact school programs? Is this amount needed to keep our programs at the current level, or is this an increase in the operating budget?

Q1 allows South Washington County Schools to maintain our highly effective learning environments. This levy is a renewal of a levy that has been in place for 20 years. If approved, it would prevent $15 million in budget cuts with no increase to property taxes. In fact, if Q1 is approved property taxes would be slightly reduced because the district’s population has grown since the last time the levy was approved. The levy would be in place for 10 years. 

If the Q1 operating levy renewal does not pass, what budget cuts would be made and when would the budget cuts go into effect? 

Considering 85% of South Washington County Schools’ budget is staffing, losing an existing $15 million would likely result in dramatic staff cuts across the district. Budget cuts could also mean the elimination of selected elective offerings, reduction of offerings for athletics and activities and changes in transportation services. However, the exact cuts would be determined by a budget reduction process involving all of the district’s stakeholders.

Budget cuts could go into effect as soon as the 2018-19 school year.

How does the operating referendum in Q2 impact school programs? Is this amount needed to keep our programs at the current level, or is this an increase in the operating budget?

Approval of Q2 impacts school programs by supporting the financial health of the district. If passed, Q2 would increase the general fund of the district by $7.5 million. The priorities for the additional funding include restoring the general fund balance to align with School Board policy, maintaining educational programs and opportunities, and training and supporting high-quality staff.  The levy would be in place for 10 years and would raise taxes on a $250,000 home by $15.42 a month.

If the Q2 additional operating levy does not pass, what budget cuts would be made and when would the budget cuts go into effect?

If Q2 does not pass the district would be facing up to $8 million in cuts, likely over two years. Potential cuts could impact class sizes, program offerings, athletics and activities. However, the exact cuts would be determined by a budget reduction process involving all of the district’s stakeholders.

Budget cuts could go into effect as soon as the 2018-19 school year.

What process will you use if there are cuts to be made?

Anytime the district considers sizeable budget cuts, like the ones that would be necessary if Q1 or Q2 fail, the district initiates a budget reduction process that involves input from all of the district’s stakeholders; including administrators, board members, teachers, parents and community members.

What is the difference between the operating levies in Q1 and Q2?

The operating levy in Q1 is a renewal of a levy that has been in place for 20 years. If approved, Q1 would allow the district to keep staff and maintain high-quality programs.

The operating levy in Q2 is a new levy that would restore the district’s general fund to a healthy level, allowing the district to improve its financial wellbeing and preventing future budget cuts.
 

What would the funds from the capital projects levy in Q3 be used for?

Approval of Q3 would support learning needs through technological advancements in educational software and modernizing aging devices with a $2 million annual levy lasting 10 years. Without the additional funding through the levy, the general fund would have to offset these costs, likely requiring cuts in other areas.
 

What would the tax impact be if all three questions passed? 

The tax impact of each question, and the combined impact of all three depends on the value of your property. Use our tax calculator to see what each question would mean for your taxes. 

Will the current amount proposed for taxes remain the same each year? 

Yes, if approved the tax changes for Q1, Q2 and Q3 would remain constant over 10 years. Use our tax calculator to see what each question would mean for your taxes. 
 

Will my taxes be impacted if I rent?

The approval of Q1, Q2, and/or Q3 would not impact taxes for renters, since levies only impact property owners within the school district. 

Will the tax increase be off-set by any state or federal programs?

Yes, in some cases tax increases from the approval of Q2 and/or Q3 can be off-set by property tax refunds, deductibility and deferrals. Information on those options can be found below.

  • Minnesota Homestead Credit Refund: Applies for homeowners with an adjusted gross income below $108,660.
  • Special Property Tax Refund: Applies if your property taxes increase by more than 12 percent and more than $100 from one year to the next. There is no income limit for this refund.
  • Deductibility of Property Taxes for State and Federal Income Taxes: If you itemize deductions for federal income taxes, you may deduct all property taxes paid.
  • Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral: If you are 65 years or older and have a household income of $60,000 or less, you may be eligible to defer a portion of the property taxes on your home. 

Is there a tax exemption for senior citizens?

If you are 65 years or older and have a household income of $60,000 or less, you may be eligible to defer a portion of the property taxes on your home. Learn more about it here.

How was the money from the last referendum used?

In 2015, voters approved referendum Question 1 and Question 2. Question 1 added approximately $10.3 million to the general fund every year for 10 years. Question 2 supported the construction of a new Oltman Middle School, renovate the existing Oltman to become Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion, and provide for facility growth needs at each of the district’s other three middle schools – Cottage Grove, Lake and Woodbury.

In 2013, voters approved Question 1 which added about $4.6 million to the general fund. Question 2 was also approved providing $6.9 million to the general fund. Those funds were used to maintain our high quality program and ensure all of our elementary schools had enhanced school building security and technology infrastructure.

Why does the district have to keep asking for money?

The district asks voters for money for a several reasons.

First, like 99% of school districts in Minnesota, our funding formula depends on money from voters. Referendums on levies and capital projects may only last for up to 10 years, so they will continue to need to be renewed to support the district’s annual budgets.

Secondly, while we are getting more funding from the state than we have in years past, Minnesota’s funding for schools hasn’t kept up with inflation. In fact, the Association of Metropolitan School District found the basic funding formula per pupil would be $579 higher in the 2017-18 school year if it had kept up with inflation since 2003.

Finally, as our district grows we are faced with challenges of providing spaces for our students and keeping up with our high standards for educating our students. 

Will the district ask for money again next year?

If questions 1 and 2 pass, the school board does not plan on presenting another levy before voters until 2023. In 2023, a renewal of the $11.5 million operating levy approved in 2013 will likely appear on the ballot. In 2025, a renewal of the $10.3 million operating levy approved in 2015 will likely appear on the ballot. This is all part of the “step method” created by the district as they evaluated their long-term budget in 2013.

When is the election and where can I vote?

The election will be held on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. You can find general voting information here and information on where to vote here.

I am going to be out of town on Election Day. Can I vote early? 

Yes, any eligible voter can vote early by using an absentee ballot starting Sept. 22. Voters can vote absentee by mail, in person, or by drop off at a Washington County Service Center before November 6. Additional details can be found here.

If Q1 does not pass, can Q2 and/or Q3 pass? 

Yes, the questions on the 2017 referendum are not connected. Each voter will be able to approve or deny any of the three questions independently. 

How do we compare academically to other districts?

South Washington County Schools has high levels of student achievement across the district. When compared to 15 similar districts, we rank 1st in science for elementary and high schools, 5th in reading overall and 6th in math overall, all of which are well above state averages.

How does our spending compare to other districts?

Of the 48 schools in the Twin Cities metro South Washington County Schools ranks:

  • 33 in all general spending;
  • 36 in operations and maintenance; and
  • 48 in district level administration.

The ranking compares districts spending amounts per pupil, with 1 being the largest amount and 48 being the least amount. The district’s rankings show, we are spending a very low rate and are being good stewards of tax payers’ money.