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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: School District 833's latest audit report is worth a look

There's nothing like curling up on a cold winter's night in front of the fire. Reading an audit report while basking in the firelight is the best kind of reading material I can think of, but most of you would prefer a good book.

The School District 833 audit report is usually presented to the School Board at the end of the year and covers the previous fiscal year, which runs from June 30 to July 1.

Ever since I learned how to evaluate an audit from now-retired St. Paul Park City Administrator Barry Sittlow many years ago, I like reading the school district audit, especially the mostly overlooked section in the back that has statistics. You might go right past it when reading the audit, which you are probably not doing.

There's a lot of good information including changes in taxes, population, government debt and employment in south Washington County that are worth looking at because they reflect the economics of the area from 2003 to 2012.

This is your last chance to turn to the sports section or calendar page.

The total taxable value of the district dipped in 2009, a reflection of the national fiscal crisis. The dip always shows up the following year. However, the total was $5.3 billion in 2003 and is $9.4 billion in 2012, reflecting that there was still growth over the entire period.

The stats on delinquent taxes present another story of just how many businesses and homes were in trouble because of the national financial collapse. In 2012, there were $610,000 in tax delinquencies, double that of the previous year. This will take a while to repair itself but governments will eventually get the taxes that are due.

The district's population was 87,851 in 2003 with 15,629 students. In 2012, the population was 93,972 people with 17,463 students.

The number of students dipped in 2008-09 because of the recession but has grown since, not by much, but still growing, which is not the case in many districts. This year, the student population grew by 313 students.

It's misleading to make concrete conclusions from overall test scores for one grade level across the district because underneath, there are kids who are not doing well. Also, tests change and each year a different population takes the tests. In general, however, Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment third-grade reading scores show an increase of 3 percentage points from 2003 to 2012 to 89 percent proficient, which is wonderful. Math for third-grade is the same, but not much math is being tested.

Lunch participation has increased 10 percent since 2003 and the district's student population is changing with the number of free and reduced-price lunches also increasing by 10 percent.

If this were on a test, more of us would get it wrong, but here's the list of the top taxpayers in District 833 with Xcel Energy at the top, followed by 3M, Woodbury Village Shop Corp., two other commercial developers and Northern Tier Energy in St. Paul Park.

The largest employer in the district is the district itself with 2,929 workers followed by HeathEast Woodwinds Hospital, Bailey Nurseries and 3M.

After finishing the audit, I'm moving on to a good book.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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