State funding shortfall prompts nearly 100 school districts to seek voters’ help


Across the state, parents, teachers and other school staff are busy stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, and knocking on doors. Their goal: to win community support on election day Tuesday, November 6 for nearly 100 local school district levies.

For about the price of a daily cup of coffee, levy supporters say, communities statewide can make an investment in the education of their children and the future of their communities.

The Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council (CLUC), following the lead of its three suburban advisory councils, so far has endorsed school levies in eight school districts: Anoka-Hennepin, Bloomington, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose, Elk River, Monticello, Osseo, New Prague, and Robbinsdale.

“The [Minnesota] legislature has not provided adequate funding for education,” said Sandra Skaar, president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the teachers union for the state’s largest school district. “The funding has not kept up with inflation.”

“The legislature has by and large abdicated its responsibility [for education] and shifted responsibility to local tax levies,” said Dick Rainville, president of Education Minnesota-Osseo.

Schools need help

In order to protect our kids’ future, their schools need to:
— Replace outdated technology;
— Give teachers the best resources to help kids excel in the classroom;
— Reduce class size and retain good teachers;
— Provide extra reading and math help to kids with special needs;
— Protect programs that provide a well-rounded education with art, music and physical education and teach kids how to use 21st century technology.

Rainville said voting for a local school levy is an investment in kids and in the state’s future. “If you don’t invest in the human capital, we will not be successful as a state.”

High quality schools: good for kids and a boost for property values

For some voters, a vote against a school levy may be the one chance they get to vote against higher property taxes.

Rainville cautioned that voting no would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Families move into a community, he noted, because they’re attracted by high quality schools.

And studies have shown that a high quality school can boost property values by ten percent, Rainville reported.

Elk River bonding levy would build new schools, create union construction jobs

By Steve Share, Labor Review editor
Any parent will report that overcrowded classrooms make learning difficult for all students.

In Elk River, explosive community growth means that local schools are going to be bursting at the seams in the coming years. To accomodate the growing student population, the Elk River School District is asking voters to approve a $133 million school bond question November 6 to fund new construction.

Elk River Schools — District 728 — serves 50,000 residents and more than 12,100 students in all or parts of Albertville, Dayton, Elk River, Otsego, Ramsey, Rogers, St. Michael, Zimmerman and the townships of Big Lake, Baldwin, Burns, Hassan, Livonia, Nowthen, Orrock and Stanford.

A new student population the size of an elementary school entered the district in 2006 and, according to the school district, the same student growth is projected every year for the next five years.

The school bond question would fund the following projects:

— A new Zimmerman high school, $51 million;
— A New Otsego K-8 school, $32 million;
–At Rogers High School, a third wing and new community theater, $23 million;
— At Elk River High School, a new gym and 10 new classrooms, $13 million.

The Elk River School District also seeks approval for a $5.1 million operating levy to raise achievement, lower class sizes, offer advanced programming and more electives, and staff and operate the new buildings.

The Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council and Minneapolis Building Trades Council have endorsed the Elk River levies.

“We feel that as Building Trades members, we have a vested interest in supporting investment in high quality school construction,” said the Building Trades’ Jenny Leabo. “In supporting this levy we’re choosing to support our children, our community, and our jobs.”

The daily cost for this vital education investment: about $1.50 per day, based on a $250,000 average home value. That’s the price of a cup of coffee.

For more information:

Reducing class sizes, investing in technology

In many school districts with levies, voters will find two or more questions on the ballot. One ballot question might be dedicated to reducing class sizes. Another ballot question might be dedicated to technology investments or other specific program purposes.

Visit the website of your school district for more detailed information (see list of school districts and websites, right, for levy campaigns endorsed by the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council).

Dire consequences if levies fail

Many school district websites spell out the cuts they will be forced to make if levy requests fail. Classes sizes would increase, staff would be cut, programs eliminated.

If the Anoka-Hennepin levy doesn’t pass, Skaar said, the district would be forced to close six schools, cut 500 teaching positions, and also eliminate 300 other jobs. “It’s a disaster if it doesn’t pass,” she said.

In New Prague, the school district faces cuts of 15 percent if the levy request fails.

“Our members voted to support the levy in New Prague,” said Chris Conry, contract organizer for SEIU Local 284. “It’s going to have a big impact on their jobs.”

Local 284 has five bargaining units in the New Prague schools, including secretaries, para-professionals, transportation, food service and custodians. All units currently are negotiating contracts.

“Our members work in the district. Many of them live in the district. Many of them have kids in the schools,” Conry said.

In Conry’s view, a school levy is a referendum on the future of the community as a whole.

The bottom line: our kids’ future

SEIU Local 284 member Beth Osiek works as a special education para-professional for the Monticello schools and has been volunteering to help pass that district’s levy.

“It works out to about a dollar a day,” she noted. “Each of us, for the future of our kids, can come up with a dollar a day. If it means not having a cup of coffee, we can all come up with that dollar.”

For working families, a high quality public education is essential for our kids’ future, providing the foundation for kids to succeed.

For Mark Vossen, a 33-year teacher in the Buffalo schools, “it comes down to the bottom line: kids.”