The Westonka School Board is meeting Monday night, June 5, 2023 at 6pm in the Performing Arts Center to discuss a facilities $91.5M bond referendum for the November 2023 ballot. The bond would ultimately cost school district taxpayers $170M according to the school’s financial analysis, more than doubling the district’s current debt load.
According to the MN Department of Education Score Card, Westonka schools have shown a continuous decline, since 2019, in the number of students meeting standards in math. Westonka’s students are also performing worse today than they were in 2018 in all three core areas of math, reading, and science.
This is not a facilities problem. However, the school district, nonetheless, is asking taxpayers to open their wallets, once again, to hand them an additional $91.5M to upgrade facilities. Their last successful facilities bond referendum was for $22M in 2016.
In order to figure out how much taxpayers were willing to fork over for different kinds of “facility improvements” the school district conducted two, separate, community surveys within the past year. The latest was completed in May of 2023. Both surveys were very similar, focusing on voter perceptions of school performance, capacity, funding, etc. Although the questions were similar on both, the number of people surveyed and the amount of the proposed referendums were significantly different.
The first survey, completed in September 2022 asked 400 participants about their views on a proposed $65M bond referendum. The second, subsequent survey, asked 625 participants about a $93M bond referendum. The earlier September survey was discovered by this author only after a data practices request showed the school district had paid Morris Leatherman $16,000 for the first survey and then paid them an additional $9,000 for the second one.
Readers might wonder why the school district only publicized the results of the latter, second survey. The following could be why:
First Survey (400 participants/$65M referendum):
- “lack of funding” was indicated by only 16% as a serious issue.
- “facility needs” was indicated by only 3% as a serious issue.
- 40% indicated they were “unsure” or “nothing” was a serious issue with the school district.
- Job performance rating of teachers far exceeded ratings for school board members and administrator (question was dropped from 2nd survey)
- 44% said property taxes were high
- 59% said school is adequately funded
- 84% said school facilities were Excellent or Good
- 38% opposed “HS Stadium” referendum spending
- Only 21% didn’t agree with the statement “Westonka School District currently provides for sufficient learning spaces”
- Only 38% didn’t agree with the statement “Westonka has enough school space to accommodate enrollment”
- Survey showed a large majority, 57%, were labeled “persuadables,” (i.e., not totally supportive) of a $65M referendum.
Some additional reasons could be:
- Survey #2 showed a smaller percentage of “persuadables” at 47% regarding a $93M referendum (total opposition went up from 22% to 26% with increased amount).
- Both surveys showed that 40% of residents are unwilling to support any property tax increase over $8/mo, and the proposed $91.5M referendum is estimated to cost a $500K homeowner $244 per year for 25 years ($6,100 total). That’s on top of the $132 per year ($2,000 total) that homeowner is already paying for the last $22M facilities referendum in 2016.
- The referendum amount of $65M on the first survey showed a smaller percentage thinking the proposal was a “bad idea” (21%) vs 29% thinking the $93M referendum was a “bad idea” on survey #2.
- When asked if the referendum amount was a “Fair Price,” answers went from 35% saying “No” to the $65M referendum, to $40% saying “No” to the $93M referendum.
For those who would like to ask questions of the Westonka school board or examine the surveys and presentations regarding the proposed referendum, you can find all the information on the school’s website.