Minneapolis voters gave public school kids a boost last week when they overwhelming approved an excess levy renewal. More than 80 percent of voters agreed to continue devoting $74 million annually in property taxes to schools — about 13 percent of the district’s operating budget.
It’s critical that the four Minneapolis school board members who were elected Tuesday — all of whom were endorsed by the teachers’ union and the DFL — will put district funds to their best use to serve students and families. Frankly, the new schools chief and board have a lot of work to do to build public confidence and boost achievement after two poorly handled superintendent searches, perceived board dysfunction and other missteps.
Renewal approval was certainly helped by the fact that it does not (alone) increase tax bills; rather it allows the district to keep what is already being collected under a levy vote that was cast in 2008 and was set to expire in 2017. The new renewal will be part of the school levy until 2024, when it will likely come before voters again.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board argued in endorsing the renewal, new school superintendent Ed Graff’s administration and the school board should have the chance to improve district operations and student performance — without a damaging blow to the district’s budget. Much of the $74 million levy will be used to pay for 591 classroom teachers, 82 academic and behavior specialists, 81 teachers and support staff for English language learners.
Along with approving the levy, voters elected four school board members with the expectation that they will oversee district spending wisely for the 36,000 students. District 2 incumbent Kim Ellison was re-elected with nearly 80 percent of the vote and will move from the district seat to one of three at-large city-wide board positions.
The other three district board spots will be filled by newcomers who won election by slim margins. In each case, the vote totals were close to 50-50 splits. That means the new board members must demonstrate that they’re ready to work for all of their constituents — including the considerable numbers who voted for their opponents.
KerryJo Felder narrowly defeated Kimberly Caprini for north Minneapolis’ District 2 seat. And voters elected Bob Walser to represent the East Isles/downtown District 4, and Ira Jourdain of southwest District 6, over incumbent board members Josh Reimnitz and Tracine Asberry.
The three new members will bring the number of teachers’ union-supported board members to seven — a majority of the board. Parents and other constituents should pay attention to that relationship. The board should resist pressure to listen only to the party and union that got them elected. They must do what’s best for students — even if it means contract changes.
Like most urban districts, Minneapolis is dealing with a long list of challenges in its schools. We wish Graff and newly elected board members well and trust they will provide strong leadership to meet those challenges.