I’ve been a parent a long time, as has my old friend Ann Berget, who urged you recently in these pages to vote no on the Minneapolis school referendum (“‘Yes to Kids’? Failure is not something to toss money at,” Oct. 31).
While sometimes the best thing a parent can do for a kid is say “No,” no parent would or should punish a kid for something the child can’t control. That is what we’re facing with the Minneapolis Public Schools referendum on Tuesday’s ballot.
My own kids have long since graduated from the city’s public schools. But my grandchildren are just getting started. The last thing I want to hear is that we should shortchange them on school funding because of perceived past failings in the education system.
I will not condone or condemn where Minneapolis education has been, although I would agree it could be improved, and improved significantly. I’m encouraged greatly by the arrival of new Superintendent Ed Graff. He deserves the support of all of us.
But a vote “no” on Tuesday, eliminating 13 percent of the public schools’ budget before he can even get started, is hardly wishing him well. He doesn’t deserve it. And I won’t do that to my kids, or our kids — the more than 35,000 of our kids in kindergarten through grade 12. They especially don’t deserve it.
Some question whether the Minneapolis schools have produced results in helping our kids succeed, or question where the school district spends its money. Good citizens should continue raising these questions and pressing our schools to be better, holding them accountable and helping our kids succeed.
That actually was done during the past eight years. An oversight committee was put into place after the 2008 referendum, co-chaired by two former state finance commissioners. The committee verified during these past eight years that referendum funds indeed have been spent for the purposes approved by voters. Meanwhile, graduation rates have risen in each of the past five years, for every ethnic group, and critical programs in early literacy, math and science, and reading proficiency have been added to the curriculum. Money has not been going to line the pockets of anyone. It has gone to do what we expect of public education — the education of our kids.
A starvation diet can’t make our schools better — or our kids better. This school district likely can survive the diet, by cutting teachers, mushrooming class sizes, eliminating new textbooks and forgoing technology enhancements. The school district and its administrators may well feel chastised by voters.
But our kids are the ones at the receiving end of this diet, not the school district. And our kids have no control over any of this. They’re just trying to do the best they can in a troubled world, where a high quality and nurturing education can mean everything, for them and for every single one of us who depend on their future — a future so intricately linked to our own.
The school district could do better, by paying closer attention to the quality of academic instruction for all kids, particularly kids of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a matter of human dignity, equity and justice.
The school district could do better in critically examining and assessing policy decisions, formulas for resource allocations, teacher assignments, disciplinary practices, referrals to special education, vendor contract awards, and school climate and curriculum. There is a lot going on here. Let’s not now shackle our educators to the past but help them launch new aspirations we can all support.
If you have issues, speak up. Make things change. Help our public schools succeed.
But don’t do it by slashing the budget 13 percent. Vote “yes” for the Minneapolis public schools referendum, and then let’s set out to make sure it counts for our schools and for our kids.
David Fisher, of Minneapolis, is a former referendum treasurer, state commissioner of administration and member of the Metropolitan Council.