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School districts across the region seek voter support November 6

The Educational Support Professionals Chapter of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 organized a “March to the Polls” October 19 to encourage early voting. Photo above: After a rally at the United Labor Centre, marchers crossed the 3rd Ave. bridge over the Mississippi River en route to vote at the Hennepin County Government Center.

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, October 26, 2018

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Faced with unfunded mandates from federal and state government, and insufficient overall state support, school districts across the region once again are asking voters to approve school funding ballot questions November 6.

If voters approve, the measures generally will increase residential property taxes modestly, while providing millions of dollars in much-needed funding for school districts to serve their students.

The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO encourages support for school levy requests.

Here’s a brief look at levy requests for the Minneapolis, Centennial, and Robbinsdale school districts.

Minneapolis: two ballot questions

The November 6 ballot will include two questions to support the Minneapolis Public Schools (ISD #1). The first question would increase the operating referendum. The second question would create a new technology levy.

If both questions pass, “the estimated median Minneapolis home value of $249,000 would see an increase of about $11 monthly,” according to the Yes for Mpls. Kids Campaign.

“We have to go to the voters so we can take care of our students’ academic, social, and emotional well-being in the way they deserve,” commented Michelle Wiese, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59.

“Unfortunately, in the past 10-15 years, we’ve gone backwards in the funding we get through the state legislature,” she said.

Wiese added: “it’s not particular to Minneapolis; it’s across the state.”

Last year, she noted, the Minneapolis Public Schools faced a $33 million deficit, which led to increased class sizes — and staff cuts. “We have seen historic understaffing,” Wiese reported.

One example of the impact: “Every school should have a library and every library should be staffed by a licensed media specialist,” Wiese said. But now “only about one-half of the schools have a licensed media specialist.”

MFT Local 59 members have  been working to support the levy campaign, helping to distribute literature and lawn signs and providing information at community events.

Ultimately, however, “we need to get some fixes at the state legislature to help solve this problem,” Wiese said.

District information:
Campaign information:

Centennial: two ballot questions

The Centennial School District (ISD #12) — serving Blaine, Centerville, Circle Pines, Lexington and Lino Lakes — has two questions on the ballot. Question one is an operating levy and would cost $27.74 per month for a $225,000 home. Question two is a bonding levy and would cost $5.43 per month on a $225,000 home.

Question one must pass in order for question two to pass.

Question one would provide for a small increase in teaching positions “so our class sizes don’t continue to get larger,” said Bruce Woznak, president of the Centennial Education Association, the district’s teachers union.

Question two would provide funding to connect the east and west buildings at Centennial High School. Right now, students need to walk outside between classes to go from building to building and need to cross an open street. “The safety issue for the kids is huge,” noted Woznak.

Question two also would provide funding for a new sound system for the district’s performing arts center, for the middle school auditorium, and for the refrigeration system for the hockey arena, Woznak reported.

Woznak, a first grade teacher, is in his 29th year teaching in the district.

In the past, he reported, “we’ve had a really hard time” passing school levy requests because of a well-organized opposition group. “We haven’t passed an increase in many years,” he said.

“Our lack of special education funding (from the state of Minnesota) is what really puts us in the hole,” he said. “It costs about $4 million a year to fund the special education mandates required by the state but not funded by the state… If they would cover that, we would not be going out for a levy.”

Woznak noted that Centennial is a small district, with few businesses in the property tax base, so “all our school funding is from private homeowners.”

Centennial Education Association members have been very active in the campaign to pass the two ballot questions. “I’m proud of our members,” Woznak said. “I’m proud of how they stepped up to help pass the levies. Nearly 30 percent of our members have volunteered to doorknock, make phone calls, pass out information.”

If the two questions pass and provide the extra funds the district needs, Woznak noted, “it’s going to the kids — it’s going to be spent on the kids.”

District information:
Campaign information:

Robbinsdale: one ballot question

The Robbinsdale School District (ISD #281) will have one ballot question, an operating levy.

The measure would repeal and replace a previously-passed operating levy.
“If voters approve the operating levy request, the estimated tax impact on the average homeowner ($223,000 value home) would be less than $12.50 per month,” according to the school district.

“We believe it’s an absolute necessity,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers. “Over the past two years alone, we’ve had $17 million in cuts,” he said. If the levy doesn’t pass, he said, an estimated $10 million more in cuts will be needed over the next three years.

“We’ve cut everywhere we can away from the classroom,” Eckhoff said. “If there’s continuing cuts, there’s no doubt in my mind it will affect class sizes.”

“What the levy does is give us a bit of hope in keeping up with the ever-increasing costs of public education,” said Eckhoff, a former third grade teacher at Meadow Lake Elementary who has worked in the district since 1995.

“We’re a people game,” he noted, “so the overwhelming majority of the money spent is on people.”

“The focus is on maintaining decent class sizes,” he said, as well as preserving electives for students like the arts. “Another focus for us is to have the resources for ongoing social and emotional supports for our students’ needs.”

District information:

Other school levies

Buffalo Levy Question 1

Columbia Heights
Columbia Heights Levy Question 1
Columbia Heights Levy Question 2
Columbia Heights Levy Question 3

Dassel-Cokato Levy Question 1
Dassel-Cokato Levy Question 2

“What the levy does is give us a bit of hope in keeping up with the ever-increasing costs of public education,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers.

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