Schools seek public help with ‘survival levies’

/ 12 October 2011 / Parents United

ECM Publishers Editorial Board, Forest Lake Times, October 12, 2011 –

Looming ahead for 113 school districts in Minnesota are operating levy elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8 whose approval will be critical for the education of Minnesota K-12 students.

Where these once were known as excess or extra levies, they now are being called by some “survival levies.”

Half of these operating levies are to renew existing levies, meaning all things being equal; approval will not increase property taxes.

One notable one is in the state’s largest school system, Anoka-Hennepin, where voters will be asked to vote to renew $48 million. If it fails, school officials say up to 500 teachers could lose their jobs.

Forest Lake’s district is seeking voter renewal of its existing levy that collects $725 per pupil unit for an eight-year period. The levy now in place collects some $6 million a year and expires at the end of this school year.

The Minnesota Constitution requires the state to provide a “uniform system of public schools through taxation or other means” for every child. Since 2003, adjusting for inflation, the Minnesota Legislature has not increased per-pupil funding.

While the Minnesota Legislature did not increase taxes at the state level last session, it is content with raising the money at the local property tax level, and some are bold enough to campaign against the only lifeline school districts have.

It is true that the Legislature is granting $50 more per pupil this year and next, but it’s intended to help districts pay costs of loans needed because the state has delayed paying $2.1 billion to school districts to balance the state budget.

The Legislature, to its credit, did not cut K-12 education.

School districts no longer have federal stimulus money that kept teachers teaching.

The greatest loss and the most damage to a child’s education will be the loss of teachers. During the last three years, 1,267 licensed and 1,028 non-licensed staff have been laid off in Metropolitan area school districts, according to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Loss of teachers increases class sizes, and while some may differ, most experts say class size matters particularly in the early grades.

Minnesota’s average high school class size is 25.5 ranking the state 45th in the country and it has an average of 27.3 in elementary, ranking it 49th.

During the past several years, school boards have eliminated many of the special classes, particularly in the arts, foreign languages and for the gifted.

Students are walking longer distances and they are paying hundreds of dollars to compete in athletics and take part in the class play.

School boards even are allowing advertising on student lockers and athletic fields.

Faced with loss of funds, school boards have little choice but to cut teachers, with the younger first-year teachers being the first to go.

In most communities, there is a hard-core no-vote; primarily those who cannot afford a property tax increase.

We would ask residents who are tempted to vote against renewing and authorizing new operating levies that they should analyze their reasons before going to the polls on Nov. 8th.

Don’t vote no because you have a gripe with the district; because you think there are too many administrators, or you’ve seen some money wasted. The time for voting on those issues is the election of school board members.

Vote yes for the right reason – to enable each student to reach their potential to compete in a competitive world during challenging times. Having a quality teacher is their best guarantee of reaching that goal.

— An editorial from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board. The Forest Lake Times is part of ECM Publishers.