When Minneapolis voters go to the polls Tuesday, two school issues will appear on their ballots. One asks that citizens agree to raise their property taxes to support the district's 34,570 students. The other seeks to change the way school board members are elected. We favor one of the two measures.VOTE YES: "Strong Schools Strong City" referendum
In these trying economic times, it is understandable that Minneapolis voters might hesitate to increase their property taxes. Yet educating children requires a commitment to the common good that should not come and go with economic peaks and valleys.
District enrollment is lower than it was a decade ago, but today's students present greater challenges. It costs more to serve students who must learn the English language, those with special needs and the disadvantaged -- while at the same time maintaining programs to attract and retain high achievers. During the past two years, the new school board and administration have taken promising steps to improve achievement and build accountability and public confidence.
For those reasons, voters should support the excess levy request. If passed, the levy would take effect in 2009 and raise $60 million per year. Owners of a $250,000 home would pay an additional $200 per year in property taxes. The funding would succeed the current $29 million referendum, passed in 2003 and set to expire next year.
The renewal would help manage class sizes. And the roughly $30 million in additional funds would pay for educational basics including early reading, math and science programs, as well as technology and textbooks.
Rejecting this levy would have severe consequences. School leaders would have to cut at least $30 million from the budget; that could result in laying off up to 350 teachers and increasing class sizes.
About 80 percent of Minneapolis residents have no children in the schools, but even so they have a stake in creating strong schools. Well-educated students become contributing, productive citizens.VOTE NO: Elect school board by districts
Two years ago, several Minneapolis state legislators proposed changing the way city school board members are elected. That plan will be on Tuesday's ballot. The "accountable, balanced and connected (ABC)" referendum calls for enlarging the board from seven members to nine, with six of them elected by district.
We hope voters will reject the idea.
When the proposal first surfaced, Minneapolis schools had suffered through a series of problems including budget cuts, declining enrollment and poor management. Public confidence was low.
At that time, this Editorial Board wrote that district voting was worth considering, largely because of that crisis of confidence which has since begun to ease. We were open to the possibility that a board with a combination of citywide and district directors could help rebuild faith in school leadership, promote stronger governance and encourage more diverse board membership.
But we have not been convinced that elections by district would make a difference. Other issues such as compensation, training and recruitment deserve scrutiny. Directors elected from one part of town, rather than being more accountable, might instead be more narrowly focused. That is not a benefit on a board that must make decisions that serve all of the city's students.
About 40 percent of the nation's school boards are elected in part or in whole by districts (including Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin). And some of them are known for high-quality governance.
Still, we agree with ABC opponents that a more comprehensive review of school board operations is needed to bring about lasting, effective school-leadership reform.