OUR OPINION: EDUCATION
How does a school district pass a levy referendum in the current economic climate?
The stock markets are in disarray. The economy is in the doldrums. Unemployment continues to be high. Minnesota is still recouping from a lengthy government shutdown brought upon by budget problems.
How does a school district such as Brainerd’s convince voters to invest in their schools — even when its current operating levy is considerably lower than the state average ($199 per pupil compared to $936 per pupil).
It will be a challenge, assuming the school board asks for a levy. Uncertainty creates anxiety and anxious voters usually aren’t prone to increase their own taxes, even by a slight margin.
The best way to gain voter support, without question, is for the school board and teachers’ union to reach an agreement that calls for no increase in the salary schedule and no step increases. Such an agreement could go a long way toward convincing the voting public that teachers and the school board understand the tough economic times people are going through. It would take away the argument that any increase the voters approve would automatically be “bartered away” in union negotiations.
The last contract with the teachers commendably held the line on salary increases. There were step increases in that contract but considerable progress was made in structural reform that was achieved in the area of capping retiree health benefits.
These are tough times for school boards and teachers. The state of Minnesota has put school districts in a bind once again this year by raiding school funds to the tune of $780 million in order to balance its budget. Education Minnesota officials estimated that when the previous legislative session’s shifts and accounting maneuvers were taken into account the state has now borrowed $3 billion from schools. That’s a good point for voters to bring up the next time their legislator professes to be a big supporter of K-12 education.
Maybe someone or some entity might have to file a lawsuit against the state to see that the governor and Legislature live up to their responsibility — as outlined in the state Constitution — to adequately fund education.