On Nov. 5, local voters will be asked to approve a $39.5 million Jordan Public Schools referendum that consists of three proposals.
Over the next few weeks, the Jordan Independent will explore each question that will appear on the ballot, beginning with the proposal to raise the operating levy.
The first question on the ballot reads:
“The board of Independent School District No. 717 (Jordan), Minnesota has proposed to increase the School District’s general education revenue by $300 per pupil, subject to an annual increase at the rate of inflation. The proposed new referendum revenue authorization would be first levied in 2019 for taxes payable in 2020 and applicable for ten (10) years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law.
Shall the increase in the general education revenue proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 717 (Jordan), Minnesota be approved?”
The first question on the November ballot will ask voters to raise the per-student operational levy by $300. If this measure fails, funding for the rest of the proposed projects are not possible, essentially causing the entire referendum to fail.
Projects included in the following two questions on the ballot include a new early learning services building, elementary school renovations, a high school remodel and secure entrance, improved parking, an auditorium expansion and a new multipurpose field. But more on that later.
In addition to providing operating dollars for proposed projects, district officials said a levy increase will keep elementary class sizes down, expand and improve elective offerings at the middle and high schools and help retain and attract quality employees.
“There are good teachers and there are great teachers. Our school district is staffed with great teachers at all levels,” said local resident Travis Fremming. “Passing Question 1 ensures that we keep our great talent in Jordan.”
Jordan currently receives $6,312 per student through state aid. Recent state legislation included a 2% increase for all Minnesota schools for the next two years, but after that, Superintendent Matt Helgerson said increases in state aid are never guaranteed.
Locally, taxpayers pitch in $724 per student — the state-mandated bare minimum. Jordan taxpayers contribute less to the local operating levy than taxpayers in similar sized districts and neighboring districts, according to information from Jordan Public Schools.
Other communities support similarly sized school districts — like Belle Plaine, Byron and Annandale — with a $984 per-student average. The average per-student levy of neighboring districts — like Prior Lake, New Prague and Shakopee — is $1,037. The state average is nearly $500 more per student than Jordan’s levy.
Those numbers only indicate an average, however; not every Jordan household contributes $724. The amount is totaled and divvied up among taxpayers based on their property value. So the average Jordan home, valued at $250,000, contributes $1,049 in taxes to fund the school district’s operating authority and building bonds.
If only the levy measure is approved, that average will rise to $1,178 annually — marking a $128.52 annual increase for the average Jordan home, or $10.71 per month. A $125,000 home would see a $64.32 annual increase, while a home valued at $550,000 would see an annual increase of $282.84.
If all three referendum measures are approved by voters, that average will rise to $1,505 annually — marking a $456 annual increase for the average Jordan home, or about $38 per month.
A $125,000 home would see a $201 annual increase, while a home valued at $550,000 would see an annual increase of $1,064.
Benefits and consequences
If the public votes against raising the levy, the district will need to cut its budget by an estimated $200,000 next spring. District officials say it’s likely elementary classes would be increased, elective and athletic offerings would be reduced, high school class sizes would continue to climb and there would be a loss of staff to competitive districts.
“And I wouldn’t say we’re flush with staff in any one particular department,” Helgerson said.
If the increased levy is approved, the district would be able to pursue the exact opposite. If passed, district officials say low elementary class sizes would be maintained, the district would be better prepared to retain and attract quality employees and elective offerings, such as STEAM programming (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), would be expanded and improved.
“If we’re going to continue to expand our programs, which I know families want, especially in that STEAM field, then we’re going to need operating dollars,” Helgerson said.
The district currently has one tech shop for STEAM programming, located at the middle school. If Question Two is passed, another shop would be built on campus, focusing on programming, coding, engineering and design, while the current shop would be refocused on manufacturing, metals, woods and electrical.
If only the levy was approved, Helgerson said the district would still hire staff to improve STEAM programming.
“Space would become even more of a challenge then, but we would still move forward with that programming,” he said. “We just have to be more creative with space needs. We definitely see it as an area we have to respond to because it’s where our local businesses are — they need skilled tradespeople, they need programmers, engineers.”
Additional dollars would also go toward expanding Summit Academy, a high school level program that allows students to enroll in professional studies courses that combine cross-curricular and real-world learning and engage in partnerships with local businesses. The district would also work to reduce rising secondary core class sizes.
Jordan resident Alaina Gast said she thinks the funds are definitely needed, but that she’d rather have seen the $5.2 million — used to build the Community Education and Recreation Center after a 2014 referendum — go toward solving the current problems the district faces.
“That money could have increased wages for teachers, paras, etc., and could have went towards expansion and improvements,” Gast said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like the CERC and think it offers the community a lot but it shouldn’t have gone before the education system.”
Helgerson reiterated that the district has done a great job at budgeting by maintaining quality staff and a wide variety of course and activity offerings with limited revenue.
“We’ve been very responsible, we want to make sure we can keep people here and hire people,” Helgerson said.
The school district will host two more informational meetings ahead of the Nov. 5 vote. Community conversations will be held Oct. 1 and Oct. 21 at the Jordan High School and Jordan Elementary School, respectively.
More information on the referendum can be found at www.jordan.k12.mn.us/ref2019, including a tax calculator that allows residents to calculate their individual tax impact by entering their parcel ID.
Next week, the Independent will take a closer look at Question 2: A $24.5 million bonding measure that would fund a new early learning services building, high school and elementary renovations and improved parking and drives.