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The Minnesota Department of Education recently presented to lawmakers in the Minnesota House regarding the status of special education funding. According to their report, “the new formula is making it difficult for districts to budget”.

We couldn’t agree more. The new special education funding formula is negatively affecting Waconia Public Schools in a very big way. First, some background. We will be talking a lot about the special education cross-subsidy in the coming weeks. The cross-subsidy is the amount of money that the district pays out of general education funds for mandates that are not funded by the state for special education costs.

Over the past 4-years, cross-subsidy costs for Waconia Public Schools have risen from $687 to $1,210 per student. What this means is funds that are supposed to be allocated for general education students are being used to pay for special education costs. $1,210 per student, nearly $5 million a year, that is meant to be spent on all students for educational programming, is being diverted to special education to cover our mandated costs that are not being funded by the state.   

Even though the Minnesota Legislature changed the special education formula on how districts are reimbursed a couple sessions ago, only now are school districts realizing the negative consequences because there is a lag time of 24-months for school districts to receive their reimbursements from the state. The end result is the inequity in special education funding has pushed the Waconia Public Schools fund balance into the negative and we are in statutory operating debt. This was discovered in January when the results of the December 2018 audit were verified.

We are not alone as there are dozens of districts across the state working with legislators to make the cross-subsidy more equitable. Even the Minnesota Department of Education is admitting that there was no way for school districts such as Waconia to see the full, negative financial impact of the special education funding formula. KSTP-TV’s Tom Hauser just came to Waconia to do a story about how this is affecting us in the context of school districts across the state.

Here’s a link to that story:

The amount that districts pay in cross-subsidies ranges from $100 to $1,450 per student. This inequity is fundamentally wrong. Districts that take care of students with the most needs have less money for educational programs for all. It’s important to note that this is a special education funding issue and not a special education issue. We are very proud of our special education programming at Waconia Schools.

Our voters approved an operating levy last November for $525 per student. At that time, $525 per student is what we needed to maintain programming. Voters heard our message and we are thankful that the operating levy was approved. It was supposed to help us continue moving forward with current programming.

Having legislators change the special education funding formula could fix this situation potentially overnight but, we cannot rely solely on them to pass legislation to make it more equitable. The operating levy will balance two-thirds of our new deficit spending amount.

The school board, administrative team and staff are working on a plan and, over the next several weeks, will find solutions to reduce the budget by 2.86%. While we go through these trying times, we are committed to doing everything possible to remain student-focused by preserving programs and keeping ISD ONE10 on the current trajectory. It’s a path that truly allows students to “explore their passions and create their success”.

As hard as it is to accept the financial realities, I do believe that the “We Are ONE10” mindset will help all of us get through this together. 

ISD ONE10 is an excellent school system and I am confident that we will continue to be excellent as we move forward. Our exceptional students, supportive parents and fantastic staff will ensure that ONE10 continues to deliver a great education for all students.

WE Are ONE10!!


Pat Devine  

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Waconia Public Schools
512 Industrial Blvd
Waconia, MN  55387

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