Unite Edina Leaders Downplay Financial Impact of Detachment Request
Edina property owners who want to leave the Hopkins school district say detachment would only have a modest impact on the district.
Edina property owners who want to leave the Hopkins school district say Hopkins is better off than the district they want to join and that their departure would have minimal impact on Hopkins’ finances.
Unite Edina 273 representatives made the arguments during a Wednesday morning meeting with Hopkins’ Citizens Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) in which committee members also questioned the group’s motivations and how it’s funded.
Unite Edina is made up of Parkwood Knolls and Walnut Drive property owners who say they want to leave the Hopkins school district because its schools are not in locations that serve the families’ educational needs. They say their request is about neighborhood schools and sense of community—not money.
“When people come into Edina, they want to be part of the Edina community,” said homeowner Pam Allen.
Still, Hopkins officials invited Unite Edina to make its case at Wednesday’s CFAC meeting in order to understand the financial ramifications before making any decision.
Alan Koehler, who’s spearheading the detachment effort, argued that Hopkins is a better-endowed district than the Edina school district. He noted that the total market value in Hopkins’ boundaries is 15.7 percent larger than in Edina while Hopkins serves 13.9 percent fewer students than Edina.
Koehler pointed to several recent and upcoming projects that will eventually add more than $350,000,000 to the district’s tax base.
Unite Edina estimates that detachment would cost Hopkins $281,000 annually in taxes paid into the operating levy—about .3 percent of the district’s $84 million general fund. The district would also lose $280,000 in taxes for the capital projects levy.
Koehler’s numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. While the Hopkins school district has several major projects on the horizon, it also has more poor students and more students in categories that traditionally struggle.
English language learners make up 7.2 percent of Hopkins students compared to 3.4 percent in Edina, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. About 35.4 percent of Hopkins’ students receive free or reduced lunch, a common measure of poverty. In Edina, that number is 8.9 percent.
At times, questions and comments from the Hopkins side seemed as if the attendees suspected there were socio-economic motivations behind the detachment request. CFAC member Kip Heegaard asked if Unite Edina had approached families in apartment complexes near the area that wants to detach. Dave Koppe asked why they weren’t trying to bring all of Edina into Edina schools.
“I’ve got many phone calls from many people in many neighborhoods (saying) ‘What does Unite Edina mean? Does that mean all of Edina?’” said School Board Treasurer Wendy Donovan: “So when we say ‘Unite Edina,’ it’s really not uniting Edina. It’s uniting your part of Edina.”
The Unite Edina properties are better off than a typical property in the Hopkins school district. The 463 parcels in the proposed detachment area represent 1.9 percent of the total parcels in the district but 4.27 percent of its market value, said John Toop, the district’s business services director.
Koehler countered that the group just followed natural neighborhood boundaries. As it was, the process has been a time consuming one that volunteer organizers had to go about while holding full-time jobs.
“It’s taken two years and literally our full bandwidth just to cover the areas in yellow,” he said, referring to a map with the proposed detachment area. “We don’t claim to speak for any other neighborhood than the one we live in.”
Follow the money
But CFAC members questioned Koehler’s use of the term “volunteer” and asked who’s paying for the organization’s attorney and lobbyist.
Koehler said 208 families contributed funding.
That wasn’t the only time Hopkins probed Unite Edina about their financial motivations. Attendees noted that 29 parcels are still undeveloped and owned by a single owner. Others pointed that a change of school district could make home values climb.
Koehler acknowledged that property values could go up but said that’s simply because people like sending children to schools closest to where they live. Others agued that the school district shouldn’t worry about what effect detachment would have on property values.
“Would that be a bad thing? Would the Hopkins School Board decide not to approve this on the basis that Edina property values would go up? I think not,” Unite Edina lobbyist Jim Erickson said. “I’m not so sure the fact that Edina property values will go up in this area is a factor.”
Hopkins officials expect to have a detailed analysis of the financial impact within two weeks. The Hopkins School Board’s Policy Monitoring Committee will hear from Unite Edina at 1 p.m. Nov. 14, where the discussion should center more on policy issues than funding. The district could make a final decision as early as the Jan. 24 board Meeting.
Erickson urged school officials not to let money be the sole factor in their decision.
“I’d like you to apply a higher standard,” Erickson said. “Yes, it is possible and perhaps true that the self interest of the Hopkins school district would be to simply say no. I’d like to suggest that there’s a higher, and perhaps greater, public community good.”
See the map above for a look at the areas petitioning to be moved from Hopkins Public Schools to Edina schools. The purple areas have petitioned to detach. The blue areas are within Edina's boundaries, but have not asked to leave Hopkins schools.