School District 197 Superintendent Blog
Welcome to my blog! The purpose of the blog is to provide an avenue for communication with parents and community members. I will be sharing our progress in implementing the District Strategic Framework. Periodically I will also post photos and share news of special events that I attend in our schools.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Update on Facility Planning / Actualización sobre Planificación de las Instalaciones

On January 27th, I published a blog post on District 197's plans to begin planning for facilities.  I referenced a facility assessment that was presented to the school board last November, which provided a beginning outline of our needs.

Since then, progress has been underway to move towards more detailed planning.  In February and March, I hosted a series of visioning discussions in our schools and community, and we also collected input about our facilities in a staff and parent survey.  A summary of those conversations and surveys was presented to the school board on March 20th.

On Monday, March 27th, a district facility task force will begin working on the important task of prioritizing our needs and helping to develop a long-range facility plan for District 197.  The school board has developed a charge statement that will guide their work.  You can follow their work on our district website.

It is exciting to think about our facilities.  They play a central role in making it possible for us to deliver high-quality academic and co-curricular programs, and it couldn't be a better time to think about how we can shape and improve them to better meet our needs.

Learning is heavily influenced not only by the digital age, but also by how our students spend time outside of school.  This past week, over 40 people helped us think about our spaces, particularly in regard to how we are moving to personalize learning to better meet the unique and individual needs of all students.  This group included K-12 teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  We can create spaces that enhance the learning experience in significant ways.  I walked away feeling enthusiastic and excited about the prospects and the opportunities for our district that lie ahead!

You can be sure that the next eight to 10 months will be a time of innovation and future-planning, and I hope you will stay tuned to our progress as the task force prepares their recommendations.  We anticipate those recommendations will go to the school board in October.  There will be opportunities for community dialogue between now and then, so be sure to stay informed.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

El 27 de enero, que publicó un blog sobre planes del Distrito 197 para comenzar la planificación de instalaciones. Hice referencia a una evaluación de las instalaciones que se presentó a la junta escolar el pasado mes de noviembre, lo que proporcionó un esquema de nuestras necesidades.  

Desde entonces, se ha avanzado en el camino hacia una planificación más detallada. En febrero y marzo, fuimos anfitriones de una serie de discusiones de visión, y también recopilamos información sobre nuestras instalaciones en una encuesta entre el personal y los padres.. Un resumen de estas conversaciones y encuestas se presentó a la junta escolar el 20 de marzo.

El lunes, 27 de marzo un grupo de trabajo instalación del distrito comenzará a trabajar en la importante tarea de dar prioridad a nuestras necesidades y ayudando a desarrollar un plan de instalación de largo alcance para el Distrito 197. El consejo escolar ha desarrollado una declaración de cargo que guiará el trabajo. Usted puede seguir ese trabajo en nuestro sitio Web del distrito.  

Es emocionante pensar en nuestras instalaciones. Ellas juegan un papel central en lo que es posible para nosotros para ofrecer programas académicos y co-curriculares de alta calidad, y no podría haber un mejor momento para pensar en cómo podemos moldearlas y mejorarlas para satisfacer mejor nuestras necesidades.  

El aprendizaje está fuertemente influenciado no sólo por la era digital, sino también por la forma en que nuestros estudiantes pasan tiempo fuera de la escuela. La semana pasada, más de 40 personas ayudaron a pensar en nuestros espacios, sobre todo en lo que se refiere a la forma en que nos estamos moviendo para personalizar el aprendizaje para satisfacer mejor las necesidades únicas e individuales de todos los estudiantes. Este grupo incluía maestros K-12 , administradores, estudiantes y padres. Podemos crear espacios que mejoran la experiencia de aprendizaje de forma significativa. ¡Salimos sintiéndonos entusiasmados y emocionados por las perspectivas y las oportunidades que nuestro distrito tiene por delante!  

Puede estar seguro de que los próximos ocho a 10 meses serán momentos de innovación y planificación futura, y espero que esten atentos a nuestro progreso mientras el grupo de trabajo prepara sus recomendaciones. Anticipamos que esas recomendaciones serán presentadas a la junta escolar en octubre. Habrán oportunidades de vez en cuando para el diálogo entre la comunidad, así que asegúrese de mantenerse informado.


Nancy Allen-Mastro
Sígueme en Twitter @Supt197


Friday, January 27, 2017

District 197 Facilities / Instalaciones del Distrito 197

District 197 has a total of 10 schools. We have five K-4 schools, two middle schools, one high school, one early learning center, and one center for students age 18-21 with special needs. As a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, we were one of the first to build schools decades ago, which means most of our buildings, with the exception of our middle schools, are relatively aged.  Like any facility, they each need constant care and attention. With 5,000 students in them 170 days a year, plus summer school, plus co-curricular events, and plus community events, a certain amount of wear and tear is a given. If we followed industry standards, based on our total square feet we should be investing $5.8M a year just to maintain our current facilities, not to mention renovation or changing the look, feel, or function of a space. We also have a number of outdoor fields that need upkeep. We simply do not have the financial resources to do all of this. Why is this so?

Unfortunately, the school financing structure in Minnesota, which is governed by the legislature, does not have a good model for funding school facilities.  There are limited annual revenue streams, and most rely solely on levying dollars at the local level.  While the school board has some prerogative in regard to financing facility improvements, the amount falls well short of what is needed for improvements or major renovations.  This makes us and all districts dependent on passing local bond referendums to pay for improvements.

In 2004, the district passed a $56M bond for upgrades that were mostly mechanical or structural in nature. The middle schools, which were built in 1997, were only 10 years old at the time, so improvements were focused at the elementary and high schools. Approximately $25M in upgrades were made to Henry Sibley High School and roughly $4M in upgrades were done at each of the five elementary schools. Upgrades included new ventilation systems at the elementary schools, various site improvements (e.g., parking lots), and some new finishes in the classroom (carpet, cabinets, sinks, etc.).

Now, 13 years later, we are again faced with maintenance that has been deferred.  We are also at a time when we’d like to be able to think differently about space for learning.  It is, after all, the 21st century.  School buildings designed for the 1950s just don’t cut it anymore in an environment enriched by technology and when we are seeking to personalize learning.  In addition, we are keenly aware of the poor condition of some of our fields and the lack of gym space for our co-curricular programs.

Last April we began a major facility study, which started with a preliminary assessment that looked at programming needs as well as the structural condition of our buildings.  A report was presented to the school board meeting on November 21. In that facility assessment report, we learned that we have roughly $95M in deferred maintenance of the physical structures alone.  This figure does not include programming improvements that are needed.  

Costs will exceed our ability to do everything.  But we can do some things. Our goal is to prioritize and develop a long-term facility plan that will enable us to develop our facilities in as cost-effective a way as possible over time.

This will begin with visioning around what we really want and need from our facilities.  Some things are obvious; other things are yet to be defined.  As a parent or community member, you can help by completing a short survey.  The survey will be open through February 28th.  The information collected will be used to help us understand our needs from a user level and ultimately help us prioritize what we value most.

In a few months, the school board will name a facility task force to carry out detailed planning. Planning will occur over the spring and summer and conclude in the fall.  The task force will include representatives from a wide range of stakeholder groups.  Looking out ahead, a bond referendum is likely to occur sometime in 2018.

This is an exciting time for our district. As the process unfolds, we hope you will agree that it is time to make a significant investment in our facilities. In the meantime, watch for information on this topic.      


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

El Distrito 197 tiene un total de 10 escuelas. Tenemos cinco escuelas K-4, dos escuelas intermedias, una escuela secundaria, un centro de aprendizaje temprano y un centro para estudiantes de 18-21 años con necesidades especiales. Como un suburbio periférico de Saint Paul, fuimos uno de los primeros en construir escuelas hace décadas, lo que significa que la mayoría de nuestros edificios, con excepción de nuestras escuelas intermedias, están relativamente anticuados. Al igual que cualquier instalación, cada uno de ellos necesita constante cuidado y atención. Con 5.000 estudiantes en ellos 170 días al año, además de la escuela de verano, además de eventos co-curriculares, y además de eventos comunitarios, una cierta cantidad de desgaste y deterioro es un hecho. Si seguimos los estándares de la industria, basados en nuestros pies cuadrados totales, deberíamos invertir $ 5.8M al año sólo para mantener nuestras actuales instalaciones, por no mencionar la renovación o cambio de apariencia, sensación o función de un espacio. También tenemos una serie de campos al aire libre que necesitan mantenimiento. Simplemente no tenemos los recursos financieros para hacer todo esto. ¿Por qué es esto?

Desafortunadamente, la estructura de financiamiento escolar en Minnesota, que es gobernada por la legislatura, no tiene un buen modelo para financiar instalaciones escolares. Hay flujos de ingresos anuales limitados, y la mayoría dependen únicamente de recaudar dólares a nivel local. Si bien el consejo escolar tiene alguna prerrogativa con respecto a las mejoras en las instalaciones de financiamiento, el monto queda muy por debajo de lo que se necesita para mejoras o renovaciones importantes. Esto nos hace depender, a nosotros y a todos los distritos, de referendos de bonos locales para pagar por mejoras.

En el 2004, el distrito aprobó un bono de $56 millones para actualizaciones que eran en su mayoría de carácter mecánico o estructural. Las escuelas intermedias, que fueron construidas en 1997, tenían solamente 10 años en ese entonces, así que las mejoras fueron centradas en las escuelas primarias y secundarias. Aproximadamente $25 millones en mejoras se hicieron a la Escuela Secundaria Henry Sibley y aproximadamente $4 millones en actualizaciones se hicieron en cada una de las cinco escuelas primarias. Las mejoras incluyeron nuevos sistemas de ventilación en las escuelas primarias, varias mejoras en las localidades (por ejemplo, estacionamientos) y algunos nuevos acabados en el aula (alfombra, gabinetes, fregaderos, etc.).

Ahora, diez años más tarde, nos enfrentamos nuevamente al mantenimiento que ha sido aplazado. También estamos en un momento en el que nos gustaría poder pensar diferente sobre el espacio para el aprendizaje. Es, después de todo, el siglo XXI. Los edificios escolares diseñados para los años 50 simplemente no se ajustan más a un ambiente enriquecido por la tecnología y cuando estamos buscando personalizar el aprendizaje. Además, estamos muy conscientes de la mala condición de algunos de nuestros campos y la falta de espacio de gimnasios para nuestros programas co-curriculares.

El pasado mes de abril comenzamos un importante estudio de instalaciones, que comenzó con una evaluación preliminar que analizó las necesidades de programación, así como la condición estructural de nuestros edificios. Un informe fue presentado a la reunión del consejo escolar el 21 de noviembre. En ese informe de evaluación de las instalaciones, supimos que tenemos aproximadamente $95M en mantenimiento diferido solo de las estructuras físicas. Esta cifra no incluye las mejoras de programación que se necesitan.

Los costos excederían nuestra capacidad para hacer todo. Pero podemos hacer algunas cosas. Nuestro objetivo es priorizar y desarrollar un plan de instalación a largo plazo que nos permita desarrollar nuestras instalaciones de la manera más rentable posible en el tiempo.

Esto comenzará con la visión alrededor de lo que realmente queremos y necesitamos de nuestras instalaciones. Algunas cosas son obvias; Otras cosas todavía están por definirse. Como padre o miembro de la comunidad, puede ayudar completando una breve encuesta. La encuesta estará abierta hasta el 28 de febrero. La información recopilada será utilizada para ayudarnos a entender nuestras necesidades desde un nivel de usuario y finalmente nos ayudará a priorizar lo que más valoramos.

En pocos meses, la junta escolar nombrará un grupo de trabajo para llevar a cabo una planificación detallada. La planificación ocurrirá durante la primavera y el verano y concluirá en el otoño. El grupo de trabajo incluirá representantes de una amplia gama de grupos de interesados. Mirando hacia adelante, un referéndum sobre financiamiento escolar es probable que ocurra en algún momento en 2018.

Este es un momento emocionante para nuestro distrito. A medida que se desarrolla el proceso, esperamos que esté de acuerdo en que es hora de hacer una inversión significativa en nuestras instalaciones. Mientras tanto, espere más información sobre este tema.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Retirement Calls / Llamada de Retiro

Many years ago, I decided to be a teacher.  I was in sixth grade at the time, and for some reason, I had no doubt it was my life's calling.  All through high school, I never really considered anything else. I'm not sure why; there was just a deep knowing that I wanted to be part of this place called school that held so much magic for me.

I am, however, at a point in my life when I am in a position to explore other passions, and after careful thought and consideration, I have decided to take that leap.  On Monday, December 5th I am submitting to the school board my intent to retire on June 30, 2017.  In my retirement letter to the board, I state:

"District 197 has brought me full circle in a career that has rewarded me in ways too numerous to mention here.  At times, I thought this day would never come.  Now that it is here, it is a bit overwhelming to imagine not coming to school every day.  I fell in love with school on my first day of kindergarten, and to this day, school never ceases to inspire me.  As I watch our students - of all ages - I am filled with such hope; I see such possibility.  I am awed by our teachers...No one but a teacher knows the stirring challenge, the magnificent joy of watching as learning unfolds before one's very eyes.  At times it is magical; other times exhausting.  But it is always, always rewarding to be an educator, no matter what capacity you serve.  And I am grateful to our parents who entrust to us their precious children, their young adults.  We need them so much, now more than ever, as we strive to ensure all our students achieve at high levels."

I want you to know how much I enjoy serving this community and will continue to do so until the very last day. District 197 is an amazing place filled with amazing people.  Its potential is truly unlimited, and I know great things are in store for the future.

For now, we need to help the school board select another superintendent.  This will take several months.  You will be kept abreast of the process from start to finish, and I invite you to participate in the board's invitation to staff and community to be engaged.  

As always, thank you for your support and commitment to District 197.  You are part of what makes it such a special place for kids!


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197


Hace muchos años, decidí ser maestra. Yo estaba en sexto grado en ese momento y por alguna razón, no tenía ninguna duda de que ese era el llamado de mi vida. A lo largo de la escuela secundaria, nunca consideré otra cosa. No estoy segura del por qué; Sólo había un profundo conocimiento de que quería ser parte de este lugar llamado escuela que tenía tanta magia para mí.

Sin embargo, estoy en un punto de mi vida cuando estoy en condiciones de explorar otras pasiones y después de pensarlo y considerarlo cuidadosamente, he decidido dar ese salto. El lunes, 5 de diciembre presento a la junta escolar mi intención de retirarme el 30 de junio del 2017. En mi carta de retiro a la junta, declaro:

"El Distrito 197 me ha traído al punto de partida en una carrera que me ha recompensado de una manera demasiado numerosa para mencionarla aquí. A veces, pensé que este día nunca llegaría. Ahora que está aquí, es un poco abrumador imaginar no venir a la escuela todos los días. Me enamoré de la escuela en mi primer día del jardín de infancia, y hasta la fecha, la escuela nunca deja de inspirarme.  Mientras observo a nuestros estudiantes - de todas las edades - me lleno de tal esperanza; veo tal posibilidad. Estoy impresionada por nuestros maestros ... Nadie más que un maestro conoce el emotivo desafío, la magnífica alegría de ver como el aprendizaje se despliega ante nuestros propios ojos. A veces es mágico; otras veces agotador. Pero es siempre, siempre gratificante ser un educador, sin importar en la capacidad que se sirve. Y estoy agradecida a nuestros padres que nos confían a sus preciosos hijos, sus jóvenes adultos. Los necesitamos tanto, ahora más que nunca, ya que nos esforzamos por asegurar que todos nuestros estudiantes alcancen altos niveles.”

Quiero que sepa cuánto me gusta servir a este comunidad y continuaré haciéndolo hasta el último día. El Distrito 197 es un lugar increíble lleno de gente increíble. Su potencial es verdaderamente ilimitado y sé que hay grandes cosas reservadas para el futuro.  

Por ahora, tenemos que ayudar a la junta escolar a seleccionar otro superintendente. Esto tomará varios meses. Se le mantendrá al tanto del proceso de principio a fin, y los invito a participar en la invitación de la junta al personal y a la comunidad para que se involucren.    

Como siempre, gracias por su apoyo y compromiso con el Distrito 197. ¡Usted es parte de lo que lo convierte en un lugar tan especial para los niños! 


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Sígueme en Twitter @Supt197   

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts / Pensamientos post-elecciones

I'd like to send a warm thank you to our community for voting to renew our operating levy in Tuesday's election.  I am grateful, for I know just how much this means to our school district's financial stability.  It will enable us to continue our strong emphasis on academic excellence and offer our students the kind of learning experience they deserve.

Amidst this excitement, we also found ourselves providing support to students after Tuesday's presidential election.  Like you, we are aware of the intensity of the political debate that has been underway for well over a year.  Students were listening to and observing the messages fostered by each of the campaigns.  On Wednesday, staff reported facing some tough questions from students and were called on to deal with sensitive, sometimes difficult, situations in which students expressed a wide range of emotions.  In response, they did their best to help students process the election outcome.  They tried to help students find their voice.  They also reinforced that schools are safe places where all are valued and respected.  

We do not take a political stand in our schools around party or platform.  We respect, and in fact honor, the democratic way in which we elect public officials.  We teach students about the process. We teach them to respect different points of view and to broaden their perspective by seeking knowledge and understanding.  We teach them how to resolve differences.  We are also deeply committed to equity and ensuring a safe and welcoming environment exists at all times for students and families, which includes guiding students in knowing how to express themselves respectfully and in a manner that does not harm or disparage others.

This is a teachable moment at school, and at home.  I urge parents and other adults to talk with students about our democracy, the importance of elections, and the ways in which we can engage with one another positively and productively to solve problems and create a better future for all.  Let's be good role models.  Our students emulate the way in which we as adults engage with each other.   

I am proud to be your superintendent, and I am proud to live in this great country.  Even at a time when we seem divided as a people, I know we stand together in cherishing our children and wanting what is best for them.  Even when we disagree, I know we can find ways to talk with one another and find common ground.  Let's do that.  If adults move forward with hope, healing, and a generous spirit towards all, then so will our children.


Nancy Allen-Mastro, Superintendent

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197


Me gustaría enviar un cálido agradecimiento a nuestra comunidad por votar para renovar nuestra contribución de operaciones en las elecciones del martes. Estoy agradecida, porque sé lo mucho que esto significa para la estabilidad financiera de nuestro distrito escolar. Nos permitirá continuar con nuestro fuerte énfasis en la excelencia académica y ofrecer a nuestros estudiantes el tipo de experiencia de aprendizaje que se merecen.

En medio de esta alegría, también nos encontramos proporcionando apoyo a los estudiantes después de las elecciones presidenciales del martes. Al igual que ustedes, estamos conscientes de la intensidad del debate político que se ha estado llevando a cabo durante más de un año. Los estudiantes estuvieron escuchando y observando los mensajes promovidos por cada una de las campañas. El miércoles, el personal informó que hubo que enfrentar algunas preguntas difíciles de los estudiantes y tuvieron que lidiar con situaciones delicadas, a veces difíciles, en las que los estudiantes expresaron una amplia gama de emociones. En respuesta, hicieron todo lo posible para ayudar a los estudiantes a procesar el resultado de la elección. Intentaron ayudar a los estudiantes a encontrar su voz. También reforzaron que las escuelas son lugares seguros donde todos son valorados y respetados.

No tomamos una postura política en nuestras escuelas sobre un partido o una plataforma. Respetamos, y de hecho honramos, la forma democrática en que elegimos a los funcionarios públicos. Enseñamos el proceso a los estudiantes. Les enseñamos a respetar diferentes puntos de vista y a ampliar su perspectiva buscando conocimiento y comprensión. Les enseñamos cómo resolver las diferencias. También estamos profundamente comprometidos con la equidad y con asegurar que un ambiente seguro y acogedor existe en todo momento para los estudiantes y las familias, lo que incluye guiar a los estudiantes a saber expresarse respetuosamente y de una manera que no perjudique ni menosprecie a los demás.

Este es un momento de aprendizaje en la escuela y en casa. Insto a los padres y a otros adultos a hablar con los estudiantes sobre nuestra democracia, la importancia de las elecciones y las maneras en que podemos comprometernos positivamente y productivamente para resolver los problemas y crear un futuro mejor para todos. Seamos buenos modelos. Nuestros estudiantes emulan la manera en que nosotros como adultos nos relacionamos.

Estoy orgullosa de ser su superintendente, y estoy orgullosa de vivir en este gran país. Incluso en un momento en que parecemos divididos como pueblo, sé que estamos unidos para valorar a nuestros hijos y querer lo que es mejor para ellos. Incluso cuando no estamos de acuerdo, sé que podemos encontrar maneras de hablar unos con otros y encontrar un terreno común. Vamos, hagamos eso. Si los adultos avanzamos con esperanza, sanidad y un espíritu generoso hacia todos, entonces también lo harán nuestros hijos.


Nancy Allen-Mastro, Superintendente

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

Friday, November 4, 2016

Financial Stability. Academic Excellence.

District 197 has a lot to be proud of.  Highly qualified teachers, dedicated support personnel, and a committed and supportive community wrap their arms around our students every day.  When these forces come together around a common vision, great things happen for kids.

In the general election on November 8th, we are asking voters to approve the renewal of an operating levy that was first passed in 2007. A second operating levy passed in 2011.  Since the community's approval of these two levies, we have been able to achieve a level of financial stability that the district has not seen in years.  This has been followed by visible increases in academic excellence.

First and foremost, student achievement is trending upward.  Scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) have risen steadily over the past four years. Districtwide, science scores are up by 3.6%.  Reading scores are up by 4.5%, and math scores are up by 7.6%.  Our scores exceed that of our comparable suburban districts in the Twin Cities by as much as 10 percentage points.

Stakeholder satisfaction has also increased for the third straight year in a row, as measured in our annual stakeholder survey conducted by the Morris-Leatherman Company.  In 2016, we saw the following gains:  

  • 92% of residents feel the community receives a good value for its investment in its public schools (up from 82% in 2014; 87% in 2015).
  • 93% of residents are proud of District 197 schools and would recommend them to friends (up from 77% in 2014; 84% in 2015).
  • 94% of residents trust the school board to do what is right for students (up from 84% in 2014; 87% in 2015).
  • 98% of residents feel District 197 provides a safe and secure environment for students (up from 87% in 2014; 91% in 2015).
When measuring parent satisfaction, those ratings run even higher.  More details on our results can be found here

More students are earning college credit in more classes offered right here at Henry Sibley High School, which in turn saves families thousands of dollars in tuition.  Since 2012, we have nearly tripled the number of students taking at least one course for college credit, such as Advanced Placement, College in the Schools, Project Lead the Way, or Post-Secondary Enrollment Options. While student achievement itself is cause for significant celebration, credit earned in University of Minnesota College in the Schools courses last year alone saved families more than $350,000 in tuition!

Eleven students were recognized this fall by the National Merit Scholarship Program for academic achievement, the most students in recent history.  Of those, two were named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.  One of our finalists even earned a perfect score on his ACT test.  Ninety (90) students were recognized recently as Advanced Placement (AP) Scholars by the College Board for achievement on AP tests last spring.

We are fortunate to have been able to make important investments in some key program areas in recent years.  This includes increasing access to academic interventions for students who need additional support.  We've invested in our K-12 music program and our gifted and talented program. We have added school counselors for students in grades K-12, and we've designed a schedule for learning at our middle schools.  More recently, we have begun to make significant strides towards personalizing learning in a way that will both individualize instruction to meet the unique learning needs of all students and engage them in problem-solving, teamwork, and other high-level skills that will better prepare them to be ready for the career or college of their choice upon graduation.

When added up, these things lead to increasingly higher levels of excellence and achievement.  I've no doubt that our momentum will continue well into the future. As a school district, we may be small, but we are mighty.  Never doubt what our students are capable of and what we can accomplish together.

Please vote on November 8th.  To become more fully informed about our levy renewal request, please visit our district website.  

Proud to be your superintendent,

Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Impact of Unfunded Mandates on School Budgets

On the ballot during the general election on November 8th is a request for voters in District 197 to approve the renewal of a $5.2M annual operating levy. The levy, which was first passed in 2007, expires in 2017.  District 197 is asking voters to extend the levy for another 10 years from 2017 to 2027.

No changes to the existing levy are proposed.  Because the existing levy includes an annual inflationary increase, the value of the dollar is sustained throughout the duration of the levy.  This makes it substantially easier to maintain programs the levy helps to support.

This operating levy provides much needed funding to support basic education programs.  While the state legislature, which provides 71% of our annual operating revenue, has made efforts to increase funding for education, the per pupil amount has not kept pace with inflation.  This is evidenced in the chart below.

In education, we are responsible for many state and federally-mandated programs.  Unfortunately, these programs are not often funded in whole or even in part.  When you combine unfunded mandates with funding that lags behind inflation, revenue has to come from somewhere.

In this blog post, I'd like to provide a few examples of unfunded mandates that have led to budget shortfalls that have, in turn, left school districts in Minnesota heavily dependent on local operating levies.  There are three notable programs that everyone has likely heard about at some point in time.  The first is special education, which carries a federal mandate to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.  The second is to provide language services for students whose home language is not English.  And the third is programming for gifted and talented students.  These are vital programs for our students.  Yet in none of these three programs do we receive enough state or federal aid to cover the actual costs to deliver the programs as required by law.

Since its passage in 1975, Congress has never fully funded special education.  Nor has the state of Minnesota fully covered its portion. This leaves districts having to cover the gap in funding, which is commonly known as the special education cross subsidy.  In District 197, the cross subsidy for special education is approximately $4M a year, or roughly one-third of special education's $12M annual budget.  We rely on our general fund to cover the $4M that should be coming from the state and federal governments.  As shown in the chart below*, the cross subsidy for schools across Minnesota is staggering, and it is growing.  It is why we consistently lobby the legislature and Congress to fully fund special education.

My second example is how districts are left to fill funding gaps for teaching English to students who are not proficient in English.  To fulfill this mandate, we receive categorical state aid for English instruction for non-native speakers, but it does not cover the actual costs. Our cross-subsidy here is approximately $900,000 per year. Third, while we receive a small amount of funding from the state to support mandated programming for students who are gifted and talented, our cross-subsidy is roughly $250,000 per year.  Combined, these two cross subsidies total over a million dollars a year.

Again, these programs are critically important to ensure the success for all students, and we are committed to providing support and services to our students. There is no question about that.  But as you can see, costs quickly add up.  It is left up to us to fill in the funding gaps at the local level.

I hope I have provided you with helpful information for thinking about the upcoming levy renewal.  You can find out more about our levy by visiting our district website.

In closing, please be sure to vote on November 8th.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me at Twitter @Supt197

*As published in the Association for Metropolitan School Districts' September 2016 Connections newsletter. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Levies Are for Learning

In District 197, we are fortunate to have two 10-year operating levies that support learning.  One was passed in 2011; another was passed in 2007.  School District 197 depends on both levies to help pay for the basic learning needs of students, including academic programming, books and supplies, teacher and staff salaries, and other operating expenses.  On November 8th, we will be asking voters to renew the 2007 levy for another 10 years.   Renewing the levy will help us maintain current programs and services and ensure continued support for academic achievement and innovation.

The 2007 levy, which expires in 2017, provides $5.2M in funding above and beyond the basic per pupil aid funding from the state of Minnesota, which is eight percent of our annual general fund operating budget.  This is equivalent to the annual budget to run one of our middle schools.

With these levies, we have been able to invest in our education program in recent years.  We've expanded K-12 music and gifted and talented programming, and we've revamped the middle school schedule to better support fifth and sixth grade students.  We also added deans at the middle schools.  Recently we expanded the number of K-12 school counselors by staffing a full-time counselor at each elementary school and adding counselors at the secondary schools to increase support for career guidance and college planning.

We have also been able to invest in our co-curricular program. For example, in 2014 we joined forces with the cities of West St. Paul and Mendota Heights to renovate and upgrade the John V. Hoene Ice Arena in West St. Paul, extending the facility's life for another 20 years and ensuring home ice for our boys' and girls' hockey programs.

Our levies for learning have ensured a more stable revenue stream for District 197 schools by including an annual inflationary increase based on calculations determined by the Minnesota Department of Education.  The inflationary increase ensures the value of the levy amount remains constant over the duration of the levy period. The inflationary adjustment each year is critical, especially when considering that while the state legislature has increased funding for schools in Minnesota, the increases in the per pupil amount have not kept pace with inflation.  You can see this reflected in the chart below.

Local levies make up for shortages in state aid, plain and simple, because communities want more for their students than what state monies can provide.  Our community is no different.  We want the best for our students.

We also believe we operate our schools resourcefully.  Our community agrees.  In our 2016 annual stakeholder survey conducted by the Morris-Leatherman Company, 92% of respondents stated they feel the community receives a good value for its investment in its public schools.  We also know that the total tax impact on households in District 197 is lower than any of our neighboring districts and those whom we often compare ourselves to in terms of size.  You can see the comparisons in the chart below.

I hope this information is helpful.  I urge you to become further informed.  In addition to direct mailings, we have a variety of information meetings and webinars occurring between now and November.  You can access these dates and other important information on our district website at  I hope to see you soon!


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Follow me on Twitter @Supt197