Congratulations, concerns follow school referendum wins

Nathan-on-Education-newCongratulations to the many parents, community members and educators who produced a record approval rate of local district referendums. This was a huge amount of work, especially in an economy that is challenging for many Minnesotans.

According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, 51 of 59 operating levies were approved. That’s 86.4 percent, higher than any other year since the association began keeping records in 1980. Moreover, 23 of 26 requests for buildings or other capital expenses were approved — an 88 percent approval rating.

Stephen Jones, Little Falls superintendent, said, “The referendum was for $948.11 per pupil unit for 10 years, which raises approximately $2.5 million per year for the Little Falls Community School District. It will be used for the continuation of current programming as well as expansion of curricular and vocational offerings within the district.”

Asked why he thought the voters gave their approval, Jones said, “An operating referendum can be viewed as a barometer of the district stakeholders’ trust and confidence in the school district. In the Little Falls Community School District right now, there appears to be a greater unity and understanding of educational expectations between the community and school district. The relationship among students, parents, staff and community members is positive and supportive … and I believe the results of the operating referendum election do, in fact, reflect that.”

Braham district voters approved a levy that will raise significantly less than the one approved in Little Falls.

Greg Winter, Braham superintendent, wrote, “The levy will continue to raise approximately $577,000. The money will continue to go toward updating and maintaining our facility, additional programming and keeping class sizes low.”

Asked why he thinks voters approved the district’s request, Winter said, “I think it was approved because the district has done exactly what they said they would, when it was originally passed. The last four years have proven this on the projects we have completed across the district. Along with these projects, we have implemented many CIS (College in the Schools) courses and vocational programming.”

This year’s victories add to inequities in funding that 2013 Minnesota legislators were trying to discourage when they approved hundreds of millions of additional dollars to public education.

For example, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association, here are varying additional amounts per pupil that some districts now have available to spend, based on approved operating levies: Braham, $275.32; Hopkins, $2,319.43; Lakeville, $540; Little Falls, $948.11; Mounds View, $1,024; Orono, $1,861.71; Osseo, $1,989.29; Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, $1,485.95; and Stillwater, $1,536.47.

Trying to equalize opportunities, Minnesota’s 2013 Legislature approved, for example, more than $100 million to pay for all-day kindergarten in every district and charter public schools. Legislators did not want this research-based program potentially dependent on whether local taxpayers approved funding for it.

Resolving these dilemmas is the subject for another day. Many Minnesotans said “yes” to more money and better facilities for public schools. That’s a strong affirmation, especially in troubled times.


Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.