After $8.5 million in budget cuts and eliminating 100 teaching and staff positions in three years, a Community Task Force came together in January to study district finances, operation, facilities and teaching and learning areas. The Community Task Force, made up of 34 individuals, took a “big picture” view of the district.
After reviewing the district’s Annual Financial Audit, studying school financing in Minnesota and learning about the history of budget reductions in the district, they concluded the district has a revenue problem. They met with school funding experts, public finance experts, facilities experts, and transportation experts. They communicated with local legislators about Minnesota’s unfair school funding system and advocated for more equalization aid.
In the end, the Task Force determined a local referendum was needed to address the revenue problem, which is a significant barrier to the district’s effort to fulfill its mission and provide a high-quality education to every student.
The district received a “clean audit report” for the last year, and spending declined from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020. The district maintained a 1a credit rating.
Cambridge-Isanti Schools is LAST among neighboring districts (e.g. Mississippi 8 Conference) in per-student spending and revenue.
With $8.5 million in budget cuts over three years, the district balanced its budget for fiscal years 2019, 2020 and 2021—100 teaching and staff positions were cut over the three years and the curriculum and supplies budgets have been cut by 57%.
(The first time in a decade that the district stopped spending from its fund balance.)
State funding has not kept pace with inflation since 2003, and most Minnesota school districts have a local voter-approved operating referendum to fill the gap and fund essential services. The average operating referendum in Minnesota is $864 per student. Cambridge-Isanti does have a voter-approved operating referendum and has not since 2004.
The district has a "revenue problem" not an expense problem.
The community is “leaving money on the table.” The state helps those who help themselves, and if the district had a voter-approved referendum, the district would qualify for approximately $500,000 in state equalization aid. This is money appropriated by the Legislature (from state sales and income taxes). Without a local referendum, that money gets distributed to other districts.
In May, the Community Task Force recommended that the district hold a referendum in 2021. A subgroup began working with public finance experts from Ehlers and Baker-Tilly to determine the amount and focus for the referendum. Their work was delayed by the state legislature’s inability to reach agreement on education funding until June 30, 2021. After understanding the impact of the State’s biennium education bill and state and federal pandemic relief available to the district, the Community Task Force submitted a recommendation to the School Board on August 5.
With the Community Task Force, we have prioritized what is most important. That’s exactly what we are asking each voter to consider when you cast your vote.
In August, The Community Task Force recommended the school board hold a referendum election in November 2021 and use the revenue to keep and hire high-quality teachers and invest in support for students.
If approved by voters, Question 1 will provide the funds needed ($565 per student) to create smaller class sizes for students, maintain and improve student opportunities and support student needs.
The Community Task Force also asked the board to propose a second question to voters to support vocational technical education and college readiness.
If approved by voters, Question 2 will provide funds ($121 per student) to support programs that equip all students to success in school, career, college and life. Among these are investments to maintain and expand vocational, technical and career classes, create more opportunities for students to earn college credits, add apprenticeships and provide training and mentoring to prepare graduates for success in careers and college. Question 2 is contingent on question 1 passing.