Questions and Answers
Please check back often for updates.

When is the election and where do I vote? 
What is the ballot question?
What will the bond dollars pay for? 
What is the tax impact to a district homeowner?
How do school taxes in District 197 compare to other districts?
What happens if the question fails?
How has the district conducted their long-term facilities planning?
How has the district incorporated parent, student, staff and community feedback in their long-term facilities planning?
When did the district last propose a comprehensive bond for facilities upgrades and deferred maintenance work?
When would all these changes be implemented?
Is the district making improvements in response to increases in enrollment?
Why not spend the district’s fund balance to improve buildings?
What is a bond? How is it different from an operating levy?
What are the district’s current levies and bonds?
In recent years, how has the district shown that it is fiscally responsible?
Why didn’t the district request this bond during the general election in November 2017 or wait until November 2018?
Who will use the multi-use athletic facility and addition, music performance spaces at Henry Sibley and the other improved facilities districtwide?
Will non-high school teams and organizations be able use the multi-sport athletic facility and turf field?
Will the changes to athletic fields at Henry Sibley impact the winter sledding hill?
What will happen to Matson Field if a new athletic facility is built at Henry Sibley?
The district proposed a bond for a stadium in 2014 that was not approved by voters. How is this proposal different?



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When is the election and where do I vote? 
The election will be held Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Information on where to vote can be found online at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us, on the district website or by calling the district hotline at 651-403-7557. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.


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What is the ballot question?
There will be one question on the ballot May 8:
A request of a $117 million building bond for school additions, renovations and repairs.


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What will the bond dollars pay for?
Click on the following link to view a list of projects by site.


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What is the tax impact to a district homeowner?
If voters approve the ballot question, the estimated tax impact to a homeowner with a median priced home of $237,000 would be $7 each month. Additional information regarding the tax impact to homeowners can be found on the tax impact page.


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How do school taxes in District 197 compare to other districts? 
The amount of school taxes paid by District 197 homeowners is less than other Dakota County and comparable suburban districts.

Chart showing how school taxes in District 197 are lower than neighboring districts


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What happens if the question fails?
If the bond is not approved by voters:
- The school board may consider another election in the fall of 2018 or another future date
- Building and mechanical maintenance will continue to be deferred, potentially leading to costlier repairs to systems and structures that have reached end-of-life or deteriorated beyond repair. 
- Parking lot congestion and safety issues due to the configuration of the space would remain at most elementary schools and Friendly Hill Middle School.
- Handicapped accessibility issues will persist.
- Matson Field in West St. Paul will continue to be utilized by varsity high school sports only and the condition of the grass field will continue to present challenges. The track at Henry Sibley High School will continue to be unusable for conference competitions.
- The district will need to make a long-term decision about the pool at Heritage E-STEM Magnet because it is currently leaking significantly
- Educational spaces such as elementary, middle and high school commons areas, the high school music and science wings, and kindergarten classrooms will not be renovated to meet current academic standards and guidelines


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How has the district conducted their long-term facilities planning?
The bond referendum is the result of 18 months of research and study. Discussion regarding facilities needs began in 2016 when the district conducted a district-wide deferred maintenance assessment of its buildings, grounds and mechanical systems. An overview of the results was presented to the school board in November of 2016. Click on the following like to view the findings of this assessment

In March of 2017, the school board assembled a Facilities Task Force of parents, community members, teachers, board members and administrators to conduct a comprehensive review of all school buildings and grounds. 

In addition to the Task Force, several schools and programs formed sub-committees of staff and parents. The sub-committees provided input and feedback to the Task Force, creating a larger network of community engagement around the facilities planning process. The district also held community meetings in the spring of 2017 and again that fall to share the Task Force’s work-to-date and gather feedback. 

Learn more about the Facilities Task Force at www.isd197.org/schoolboard/initiatives/facilities


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How has the district incorporated parent, student, staff and community feedback in their long-term facilities planning?
In addition to the Task Force, several schools and programs formed sub-committees of staff and parents. The sub-committees provided input and feedback to the Task Force, creating a larger network of community engagement around the facilities planning process. The district also completed surveys of staff and parents, held community meetings in the spring of 2017 and again that fall to share the Task Force’s work-to-date and gather feedback. 


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When did the district last propose a comprehensive bond for facilities upgrades and deferred maintenance work?
The last time District 197 completed a comprehensive study of facilities that included deferred building and mechanical maintenance needs was 1999. Based on the results, the district proposed a $56.2 million bond for facility improvements to the community, which was approved by voters in 2004.


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When would all these changes be implemented?
If the bond request passes, construction would begin on projects in the fall of 2018, with some smaller projects starting as early as the summer of 2018. All projects would be completed by the fall of 2021. If the bond is approved by voters, the district would move into the design phase for each project and a master schedule would be developed to determine the start and finish of each project at each school. The district will seek more stakeholder input during project design and would work to ensure, as much as possible, that any construction would not interrupt the school day or school activities. 


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Is the district making improvements in response to increases in enrollment?
The request of a building bond is not a direct response to enrollment growth, however the district has experienced significant growth over the past decade and it is expected that growth will continue. 

Chart showing the enrollment growth in District 197

With more students, the district has also seen growth in programs like School Age Care (SAC), which is a fee-based program that provides childcare for students before and after school and on non-school days. In fact, the program has grown 36% in the last 4 years. The increases in SAC enrollment have led to an increased need in space. Because of the time of day, the SAC programs in each elementary school often have to compete with school activities for rooms to hold programming.


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Why not spend the district’s fund balance to improve buildings?
In accordance with school board policy, the district maintains a fund balance to insure the financial stability of the district. The fund balance provides for adequate resources aimed at preserving a positive cash flow and allowing the district avoid or alleviate short-term borrowing.

It also provides a sound basis for the continuation of the strong financial rating of the district and reserve funds enable the district to deal with unexpected budget circumstances.

The district’s current fund balance is approximately $10.6 million, which is 13 percent of operating expenditures or just about two months of operating expenses. If the fund balance were depleted, the ability of the district to pay for daily operations (teacher and staff salaries, supplies, electricity, etc.) would be at risk.


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What is a bond? How is it different from an operating levy?
While both are considered levies on your property tax statement, the quick answer is that levies are for learning and bonds are for building.

Operating levies are the funds that the district uses to run and operate its schools. It provides money above the state allocation to be used for day-to-day expenses such as staff costs, supplies, heating expenses, transportation and co-curricular programs.

Bond levies are the funds the district uses for new construction, updates or additions to school buildings. These funds cannot be used to run schools or pay teacher salaries.


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What are the district’s current levies and bonds?
- 2011 Operating Levy - $4.5M
- 2014 Capital Projects “Technology” Levy - $1.2M
- 2016 Operating Levy (renewal) - $5.2M

Bonds total $37.9M (A recent check of neighboring and like-sized metro school districts showed that the amount of debt carried by other districts varied widely. School District 197 is well below the group average, however, of $102.7 million.)


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In recent years, how has the district shown that it is fiscally responsible?
Over the past few years the district has worked hard to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. A few highlights from past years include:
- 2012: refinanced long-term debt and saved taxpayers (not the district) $5.5M over 10 years, starting with taxes payable in 2014
- 2013: switched to self-funded employee health and dental insurance while establishing a reserve to help control costs
- 2014: bond rating upgraded from Standard and Poor’s A+ to AA-
- 2017: earned a Finance Award from the MN Department of Education

For more information, visit the Finance Fast Facts page.


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Why didn’t the district request this bond during the general election in November 2017 or wait until November 2018?
The decision to hold the referendum in May 2018 was based on several reasons. Due to the time needed for a complete facilities assessment, thoughtful gathering of stakeholder feedback and the work of the Facilities Task Force, it was decided that November 2017 was too soon and not an option. 

If the school board waited and delayed the election until November 2018, it would also delay the design and construction processes, and could also lead to increased costs. 

With a May 2018 election, if the bond is approved by residents, it is expected that the district will be able to immediately move into the project design phase, with some smaller projects starting construction this summer. Having the summer and even fall to gather stakeholder input and complete the design work will allow the district to hold its construction bidding cycle in the fall of 2018/winter of 2019, which is optimal for getting the lowest bids for construction that will happen in the summer of 2019. Area contractors use the winter months to develop their summer project schedules and will be competing for work with other companies looking to take advantage of the short summer construction season in Minnesota, which should be financially advantageous for the district. 


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Who will use the multi-use athletic facility and addition, music performance spaces at Henry Sibley and the other improved facilities districtwide?
In order to maintain its grass field for games the high school’s current stadium, Matson Field, is currently only used by the high school’s varsity football and soccer (girls and boys) teams. A new athletic facility would be used by the high school football, soccer and track teams for practices and games/meets, as well as the baseball and softball teams for practices. In addition, the field would be used by high school physical education classes during the school day and could be rented by area youth athletic organizations. Similarly, the performance spaces at Henry Sibley would be used by school music classes and activities, theater and dance before, during and after school. The spaces could also be rented by community groups.


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Will non-high school teams and organizations be able use the multi-sport athletic facility and turf field?
Yes. Like other district facilities, non-school groups will be able to rent out the athletic facility and use the turf field and/or track. Facility rental in District 197 is coordinated by Community Education. Currently, priority for use of any facility is based on the following, provided the facility is available:
 
a. School events
b. Community Education
c. Community Related (Residents)
d. Non-Resident, Non-Profit, Political and Commercial
 
At this time, no preliminary or final schedules have been developed for the proposed athletic facility.


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Will the changes to athletic fields at Henry Sibley impact the winter sledding hill?
The hill currently used for sledding during the winter will not be impacted by the construction at Henry Sibley High School.


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What will happen to Matson Field if a new athletic facility is built at Henry Sibley?
If a bond is approved by the community, and a new athletic facility is built on the high school campus in Mendota Heights, the School Board has no plans to sell the land on which Matson Field is currently located in West St. Paul. With some minor maintenance upgrades, the field would remain available for use by middle school physical education and sports teams, the high school’s junior varsity athletics, and as a rentable field by area community sports organizations, all of which are currently unable to use the field.


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The district proposed a bond for a stadium in 2014 that was not approved by voters. How is this proposal different?
Since the election in November 2014, the district and school board have continued to receive inquiries from community members regarding the potential construction of a stadium on Henry Sibley's campus.  At the same time, the district and school board have continued to receive complaints and hear safety concerns regarding the field conditions of Matson Field's grass surface.

In November of 2016, the school board received the results of a district-wide facilities assessment that indicated a variety of deferred maintenance needs throughout the district and led to a facility planning study and eventually the appointment of a Facilities Task Force. In the gathering of stakeholder input during the study and through the Task Force, feedback from the community has indicated, among other potential projects, an interest in having a multi-use athletic facility located on the Henry Sibley High School campus.

The Task Force worked to understand why the community did not approve the complex proposed in 2014. With input from the district's architect, the Task Force has chosen to recommend an athletic facility that:
- Is located on the northwest part of the Henry Sibley campus instead of the south.
- Has a track, which the 2014 facility design did not

Like the 2014 proposal, the athletic facility would include a scoreboard, concession stand, press box, ticket booth and bleachers.

Other athletic upgrades at Henry Sibley included in the bond include dugouts for baseball and softball, a new multi-purpose gym space addition, new bleachers in the large gym, drainage improvements to outdoor fields, locker room updates and more.