Minneapolis residents ought to follow the advice of the Vote Yes signs that have sprouted on lots and lawns across Mill City. Voters should approve the excess levy renewal on the Nov. 8 ballot — just as they overwhelmingly approved the original levy request eight years ago.
If passed, the renewal would take effect next year and retain $74 million annually for the city’s public schools. And that amount, plus inflation, would be collected for schools every year until 2024. The original levy was passed in 2008 with just over 71 percent of the vote. The funds it generates help manage class sizes and pay for basics such as textbooks, technology, and early reading, math and science programs.
The current levy makes up about 13 percent of the district’s operating budget, and rejecting the renewal would have serious consequences. Though it’s uncertain which positions would be cut, a $74 million budget deficit would surely result in staff reductions. Some estimates say that as many as 500 teaching positions could be lost.
District officials say that most Minneapolis schools receive some referendum funding and would cut their budgets without the levy renewal dollars. The impact on each school can be found on the district’s referendum FAQ page.
Voters should understand that this levy alone would not increase most tax bills. A “yes” vote would simply maintain the excess levy amount that is currently part of the annual property tax. In fact, for many property owners, the school levy portion of taxes due would decrease, because the tax base has grown with more households and businesses.
Former school board member Ann Berget, who opposes the referendum, cited the district’s recent financial struggles and leadership problems. But new schools chief Ed Graff and a board that has learned from missteps should be given the chance to improve district operations and student performance — without such a damaging budget blow.
School districts shouldn’t have to rely so heavily on local property tax votes for basic operations, and state lawmakers should revisit school finance reform. No other local unit of government has to go repeatedly to the ballot to meet basic funding needs. At the same time, Minneapolis and other Minnesota school boards must operate as efficiently as possible.
For now, approving the renewal would help maintain needed school programs. Success at the ballot box on Nov. 8 will mean more success in the classroom for Minneapolis students.