Paying for parking
It’s shortly after 7 a.m. on a recent Friday morning, and a small group has gathered in a Minnetonka High School workroom.
This assortment of students and adult advisors quickly call the meeting to order, and one by one, each student runs down a to-do list with a brief update. These students are the planning committee for an upcoming fundraising event called “Show of Hands.” It’s an effort to raise awareness of the Hope House, a local six-bed emergency shelter for teens in crisis. They also hope to raise funds to support the shelter’s mission.
While adults in the meeting make suggestions, it’s the students who are running the show.
Similar student committees in Chanhassen and Eden Prairie high schools are also helping with the planning and marketing of the event. It’s an all-out effort by teens for teens, to highlight Hope House and the resources it has to offer to teens in Carver County and western Hennepin County.
Show of Hands is described by organizers as a “fun-raiser.” It is free and runs 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26 at Minnetonka High School. Students and parents from the communities of Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Waconia are invited to an evening of entertainment, games, live music and drawings for prizes.
And underscoring the lighthearted fun is the message that local teens in crisis have a place to go — Hope House, an emergency shelter at 3010 78th St. W., Chanhassen. It’s where teens can find a bed, meal, counsel and support.
Since Hope House opened in November 2015, it has sheltered more than 300 teens ages 14 to 19, according to Pam Langseth, a member of the Hope House Board of Directors. An additional 1,200 teens have been helped, through counseling and assistance, via a help line provided by Hope House staff in partnership with 180 Degrees, the Open Hands Foundation and Friends of the Hope House.
This event has been in the thought process and the planning process since last April, Langseth said. While she and Michele Seetz, MHS activities coordinator, have provided guidance for the MHS teen planning committee, the “students have taken hold of this event,” Langseth said.
The initial idea developed from a feeling that not enough teens in eastern Carver County and western Hennepin County were aware of Hope House and the services it offers teens in crisis.
“We pulled together a group of kids, and ran the concept by them,” Langseth said. “They said, ‘This is really cool.’” To date MHS has about 30 students involved in planning and execution; Chanhassen has six and Eden Prairie has six. Another offshoot is that a Hope House student club has formed at MHS; another is being planned for Chanhassen.
Another key component is raising teacher awareness. In Minnetonka, teachers will receive in packet of information about Hope House and its services, and a small poster of a hand that a teacher can post in the classroom signalling that his or her classroom is a safe space, and the teacher is approachable for any teen in need of help.
Currently, Langseth said, many of the teens who’ve come to Hope House are from elsewhere around the Twin Cities. “I think that we all suffer from the belief that there aren’t any kids that need help in our community,” Langseth said. “But we know there are. Of the kids who come to Hope House, two-thirds have some mental health issues. Some have eating disorders, it runs the gamut.
“Unfortunately we live in a part of the community where the feeling is, ‘It’s not OK to be different.’ Kids who are hurting don’t want to stand out. They want to fit in and not ask for help. So we feel strongly to connect them to resources that are helpful like Hope House and its resources.”
Macie Anundson is the student co-lead and leader of the MHS Hope House Club. She feels it’s an important cause because, “There is not very much awareness around this issue in our area and I believe that it is imperative that we change that and make resources available and easily accessible for all who need them. Students should be involved because it is their peers who are struggling and it is important to be understanding of what is going on in our community. Anyone can go through hard times at any point and it is important that people have each other’s backs.”
Sarah Stoler, also an MHS senior, admits that, before joining the group, “So many people, including me, don’t realize that homelessness or a troubled home life is a real issue among teens in our community, even in an area as wealthy or privileged as ours appears to be. Awareness of this issue should be spread to all in this community, and students, whose peers are the main victims, are key to positive change.
Aftyn Brenke is a Chanhassen High School junior, and is on the marketing team.
“I know many people who have never heard of Hope House,” Aftyn said. “Every teen in our community can benefit from knowing about Hope House and its resources. Even if someone doesn’t need to go to the Hope House themselves, they can spread the word about the help they give and possibly help someone who actually needs it. It may not seem like it, but there are teenagers struggling right here in our own community. Some don’t have a place to sleep, an adult to go to, or any other place to go.”
“Awareness of this issue should be spread to all in this community,” said Stella Buselmeier, a Chanhassen High School junior, “I feel that more people need to be aware of the Hope House and its benefits. When I ask fellow classmates if they have ever heard of the Hope House, the majority of them say no. This deeply concerns me due to the fact that the Hope House is a resource for teens!
“Teens are the ones who need to be aware of this amazing resource we have right in our backyard. The community should care because the Hope House helps these kids in our community. We should want every teen to have the best life possible despite the tough situations they may encounter in their lives.”
House of Paine
Science of scare
In a few weeks, Eastern Carver County Schools will ask voters for roughly $211.7 million. If successful, the Nov. 5 referendum would cost the average household $50.58 per month.
District 112 officials say the funds are needed for crucial repairs; to build an elementary school for growing communities; to continue funding technology and security measures; and to manage classroom sizes.
“It all makes sense. These are reasonable requests,” said Zach Saueressig, a local parent and referendum advocate.
However critics, sometimes spurred on by disagreements over the district’s recent equity initiatives, advocate against the referendum.
“They’re laying out a lot of money, that’s one of my concerns,” commented Vince Beaudette, a conservative activist from Victoria, who is also critical of the district’s “equity agenda.”
The groundwork for the referendum began months ago and the District 112 School Board approved the measure in June.
The first referendum question asks for an operating levy of $550 per student, or $5.6 million per year over the next 10 years.
“The state has not kept pace with inflation on the funding formula for at least 15 years. Currently right now, it’s a gap of $6 million a year,” according to Director of Finance & Operations DeeDee Kahring.
The measure would “prevent cuts to programs and services, maintain class sizes and manage growing enrollment,” according to the district’s website.
Of student funding, 71% comes through the state, and 22% comes from district property taxes, Kahring said. The federal government funds another 2% and 5% comes from other sources.
The total cost of the question to taxpayers is somewhat variable, as the question factors in annual inflation, and it could increase or decrease depending on the number of students enrolled, according to district officials.
Gwen Michael, a Chanhassen resident who has raised questions about the referendum, argues that the inflation costs associated with the question are “hidden.”
The second question asks voters for $111.7 million. Of those funds, $35.9 million would pay for a new elementary school in Chaska; $13.7 million would build a new bus garage; and the largest portion, $62.1 million, would pay for school repair and maintenance, Kahring said.
The school, which would open in fall 2022, is needed to house an influx of 1,400 students expected to enroll over the next five years, nearly two-thirds at the elementary school level, according to district projections.
The existing bus garage only can hold half of the current buses, according to the district. If the referendum passes, the district would convert an existing commercial/industrial building at 4201 Norex Drive in Chaska into a bus garage.
The majority of the maintenance money would go to Chaska Middle School East ($22.6 million/36.6%), Chaska Middle School West ($19.3 million/31.2%) and La Academia, a Spanish-language immersion school ($10 million/16.3%).
“We went through the process to replace the boilers. Now what needs to happen is we need to replace the infrastructure with that,” Kahring said. That includes replacing 50-year-old ventilation, plumbing and electrical systems.
Beaudette takes issue with space taken up by the district’s preschool programs. “What they’ve done is take space, repurpose it from kindergarten and elementary over to preschool. Preschool is optional. It is not required in this district,” Beaudette said. “To say they don’t have the space — of course they do. They better start thinking about repurposing it back.”
“Inflated growth numbers and underrepresented student space is a consistent theme found in the reports of D112,” said Michael, who also took issue with how space was being allocated for “non K-5 programs.”
In a recent letter to the editor, Michael stated that schools can accommodate another 1,091 students.
However, argues Celi Hega, District 112 communications director, “construction capacity versus program capacity are two different numbers.” A classroom may be built for 25 children, but only hold six special education students, she said.
The first and second questions must both pass, in order for either to go forward.
The third question approves a 10-year-old security and technology levy. It would be a continuation of a levy that was approved in 2013 to support technology for students and staff and school security, according to the district.
The district describes the question as a “no-tax increase” on its website.
“They’re selling it as something that’s not going to cost us anything,” Beaudette argues. “Well it is, because our taxes should go down.”
If the levy isn’t approved, the costs would need to come out of the general fund, which would mean cuts to other programming, according to school officials.
So far, the district has spent $58,263 informing the public about the referendum, including a recent sample ballot mailed out to residents.
“We can only market with information. We cannot advocate for a vote either way,” said Kahring.
The largest amount of district funds have been spent on a fall 2018 survey ($18,000); video production ($13,050) and a consultant ($20,875).
The consultant worked for the district as the former communications director left for a different job, and Haga came on board, according to Haga.
“If you factored in the salary savings while the director position was vacant that would reduce expenditures significantly. And while I know that these efforts are sometimes dismissed as marketing, I’d submit that any time the district goes out to its residents to ask for additional funding, we have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to make sure residents are informed, and that’s what these dollars represent,” Haga stated.
Groups have lined up on both sides of the referendum, including “Vote Yes for the Kids” and “Concerned Parents of ISD 112.”
The district has granted data requests for the contact information of parents from pro and con referendum groups, according to Haga, including Chris Commers with Chaska Education Association; Anna Stauber with the Citizens Referendum Committee; and Beaudette with “Concerned Parents.”
Residents report receiving recent phone calls in favor of the referendum. Beaudette said he anticipates the information he collected would be used for emailing.
A group of residents recently expressed its concerns to the Chaska City Council, before it voted, 3-0, in favor of supporting the referendum.
The district’s equity work was among the items discussed during a visitors presentation.
“Equity is about political indoctrination. It has nothing to do with defeating racism,” Julie Slater, of Victoria, told the council. “So, the reason why I’m concerned as a taxpayer is our tax money has been used to implement this program, and parents like myself don’t want it anywhere near the kids, and now the district is asking for more money from us, and frankly the community doesn’t trust them.”
“I believe the district has done their homework,” said Saueressig, in a phone interview. “I believe their plan seems reasonable and good. I don’t see any critical errors in their plan or their processes.”
Editor’s note: The total cost of the referendum questions is included with this article. An amount previously reported in June was incorrect.