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Local school districts seek voter support November 5

Thanks to voters passing a 2017 bonding levy, Sunrise Elementary School in Blaine is one of two newly-built elementary schools which opened this fall in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. Both schools were built with union labor under a Project Labor Agreement.

From the Minneapols Labor Review, October 25, 2019

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS —Election day Tuesday, November 5 in the region will see races in several communities for mayor, city council, and school board — and, of critical importance, voters will be asked whether or not to support ballot questions to provide additional funding to local school districts.

The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO has endorsed ballot questions in 12 school districts (see list).

Depending on the district and the ballot question, the measures would provide operating funds to help keep class sizes down, construct new facilities, and invest in technology and security, among other purposes.

“We need the referenda to sustain strong, successful schools,” said Chris Commers, 21-year history and government teacher for the Eastern Carver County School District and president of the district’s teachers union, the Chaska Education Association.

The Eastern Carver County school district (ISD #112) has put three questions to voters. Question 1 is an increase in the operating levy to maintain class sizes and respond to growing enrollment. Question 2 is a bond request to build a new elementary school, address deferred maintenance, and build a new bus garage. Question 3 would renew an existing security and technology levy.

Question 1 must be approved in order for Question 2 to pass.

If all three questions pass, the total tax impact for the district’s average home value of $350,000 would be $36.25 per month, according to the district website.

(Note: Question 3, which renews an existing levy, would not increase taxes).

“We know for our voters, it’s a big ask,” Commers said. He added, “it’s the only tax you can say ‘no’ to.”

Two 2015 ballot questions in the district both passed with 69 percent in favor, he said, but “this one’s going to be much closer.”

This year, a virulent anti-levy campaign is urging voters to vote “NO, NO, NO” while fear-mongering about the school district’s increasing diversity to divide the community.

All district students, however, stand to lose if the three ballot questions fail.

According to the school district’s website: “If any of the questions do not pass, there would be negative impacts, such as continued crowding, increased class sizes, deteriorating facilities, teacher layoffs, continued cuts to academic programs and services, cuts to technology equipment and support, and limited updates to school security systems.”

“We do pass referenda normally here. We do have supportive parents and communities. We’re really proud of our schools,” Commers said.

A community “yes” vote campaign is underway and teachers also have been volunteering at phone banks to call school parents, Commers said.

In the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose school district (ISD #877), voters will be asked whether or not to support just one ballot question, an operating levy.
In 2018, a larger operating levy request failed — with 65 percent voting “no.”

“It was bad,” acknowledged Natalie Polaschek, an 11-year middle school teacher in the district who recently became president of Education Minnesota Buffalo, the teachers union.

“We definitely have more of a grassroots effort going on this year,” Polaschek reported. Volunteers have been calling at phone banks three times a week and “we have a really big early voting push.”

This year’s request is about 70 percent of the 2018 request and would run for five years instead of the 10-year authorization sought last year. The tax impact on a $250,000 home would be $25 per month.

When the 2018 levy failed, the district made $1.3 million in cuts. “We’re already seeing an increase in classroom sizes,” Polaschek said.

If this year’s levy fails, an additional $2.9 million in cuts would go even deeper, the district website says, including 22 teaching positions, closing Discovery Elementary, cutting six activities at the high school and eliminating all middle school activities.

“The idea of middle school students not having any after-school activities or sports is concerning for parents and community members,” Polaschek said.

“A lot of districts are realizing we’re in this position because we’re not getting enough funding from the state level,” Polaschek said. “We need to go to the local level to make up the difference.”

In the past, local school levies were for the extras, noted Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “Now they’re for the basics.”

The current system leads to inequities, Specht said. The solution: full state funding, which Specht said would be Education Minnesota’s number one priority for 2020.


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