Highlighting recent gains made by Richfield public school students on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) reading tests and praising the district for its diversity, in what was billed as a “state of the schools” address delivered at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon yesterday, Richfield Public Schools Superintendent Bob Slotterback said that, while the district remains largely on the right track in terms of enrollment, testing and the retention of local students, it continues to face significant economic challenges that are outside of its control.
Slotterback emphasized that the most important issue facing Richfield public schools this year stems from ongoing funding concerns. Following the defeat of a November 2011 referendum that asked Richfield voters to repeal a current operating levy for the schools and replace it with another, larger levy, this November voters will instead face two separate but related referendums pertaining to school financing.
The first referendum will ask voters to extend a current $301 per-pupil property tax levy that’s set to expire at the end of the 2012-13 school year; by Minnesota law such levies must be renewed every 10 years. The referendum would not constitute a tax increase, since the district already levies the $301 per-pupil.
The second referendum will ask voters to approve an additional $60 per-pupil in tax levies, meaning property taxes would go up slightly.
Based on Richfield’s median home price of approximately $169,000, the additional levy would mean that the average Richfield homeowner would pay an additional $16 per year in property taxes.
While school district employees are not allowed to weigh in on ballot initiatives with their personal opinions, Slotterback was frank about the variety of options facing the district dependent on November’s elections.
“The worst case scenario is if both questions go down, and we get no new money from the state,” Slotterback said.
In such a scenario the school district might be forced to reduce its budget by as much as $3.7 million. While dependent on several other factors—including how much money the Richfield School Board chooses to keep in the district’s reserve fund—such a reduction could make it necessary to fire as many as 60 teachers, equivalent to firing every teacher currently employed in all three of the district’s smallest elementary schools.
Slotterback emphasized that, compared to neighboring school districts, Richfield is still not asking voters to approve an enormous increase. While the St. Louis Park School District receives $1,954 per pupil in operating levies—the most money of comparable cities nearby—Richfield currently levies $1,099 for each pupil. If the additional levy were approved, Richfield would see $1,159 in operating levies for each pupil.
“Compare us to the other districts (and) we don’t feel like we’re asking for a lot of money here,” he said.
Testing, Enrollment Numbers
Continuing goals identified by the Richfield School Board include raising the graduation rate, raising the number of students who take the ACT college entrance exam, and raising overall MCA scores in both math and reading.
In 2012 Richfield public schools scored 18 percent below average state MCA scores in reading and 20 points below state math averages.
The district continues to attract more students, increasing total district enrollment to between 4300 and 4400 students in 2012. As recently as 2009 fewer than 4000 students were enrolled in Richfield public schools.