Minn. voters approve most school levy requests
Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio, November 7, 2012 – Most Minnesota school districts with levy referendums on the ballot yesterday met with success.
Voters in 29 of 40 districts approved levies, essentially pledging local taxpayer support for their schools, in addition to state-provided funds.
This year’s approval is better than average in a year crowded with local, state and federal races, said Greg Abbott, a spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
“This passing percentage is a good 20, 25 percent above what a presidential [election] year usually runs,” Abbott said. “That means they really did their work and they got out there and got people to the polls.”
In the St. Paul Public Schools district, voters approved this year’s largest overall levy, which will provide the district with $39 million a year. The money will be used to continue pre-kindergarten programs and all-day kindergarten, which are currently being funded under a levy that is about to expire.
It will also kick off a new effort to use technology to help teachers create individual lesson plans for their students.
“Instead of one class- learning model where the teacher is giving information, break that up so students may be in small groups or online at different times or be at home engaged with their small groups and learning in different configurations,” said Steve Hoffman, assistant director for academic innovation and technology integration in the Department of Curriculum Instruction and Professional Development.
Across the state other school districts had successful levy votes as well.
Voters in the Fairmont School District approved a $950 per student levy. Had that levy failed to pass, the school board was prepared to ax all high school sports and many other activities.
Voters in the Frazee-Vergas Public School District approved a levy that will actually reduce their taxes. District officials cut the school levy request by a third, something no one recalls a Minnesota school district ever doing before. That measure passed with 54 percent of the vote.
Not all levies got the thumbs up. Voters in 10 districts voted down levy questions.
One was in the northwestern Twin Cities suburb of Osseo, home to the state’s fifth largest school district. It failed by just 116 votes.
“Painfully close, heartbreakingly close,” said Superintendent Kate Maguire. Voters there also turned down a $5 million a year technology levy.
That means the district will need to make serious budget cuts. Maguire indicated that 200 of Osseo’s 3,000 teachers and staff could be laid off.
“The $14 million in reduction anticipated in the next two years, absolutely means layoffs of staff members,” she said.
In recent years school districts have increasingly turned to levies to fund operating expenses.
The latest round of referendums shows state funding has not kept pace with school costs, said Tom Dooher, president of the state teachers union Education Minnesota.
“These are survival levies,” Dooher said. “If these don’t pass, we see massive cuts to programs, larger class sizes and students not getting the learning they need.”
It’s time to take another look at how Minnesota schools are funded, and he hopes the shift of the state Legislature to Democratic control might allow that to happen.