Bucking the conventional wisdom that warns against asking voters for more money in a general election year, the Osseo school board will do just that in November.
The board voted earlier this week to pose two questions to voters on Nov. 4: One will ask for $8 million in additional tax revenues a year for 10 years, and the other will ask for $5 million a year over five years to pay for technology equipment and training.The Osseo district is still smarting from $16.3 million in cuts in the 2009-10 budget that resulted in the closing of two schools, big program changes in four other schools, and the loss of scores of teachers. Those cuts came after district officials held a partially successful multi-question referendum this past November. Voters passed the first and most important question, which granted the district $31 million a year over 10 years in a new, bigger levy that replaced two existing ones.
"School districts need money," said Osseo board chairwoman Kim Green. "This is the venue the state provides to provide dollars for school districts. We had to go back to the voters this way. This is what we need."
In the November referendum, each question depended on the passage of the previous question.
This year's will feature questions that can pass or fail independently of each other.
Should the first question pass, district officials hope to use that money to hire back teachers. In the original budget cuts, 185 teachers were laid off. Some unanticipated extra money from the Legislature allowed the board to rehire 23 of those teachers.
"The board hasn't had any discussions that are that firm about how we would spend the dollars," Green said. "But there is a high level of interest in reducing class size."What about reopening the two schools -- Osseo Elementary in Osseo and Edgewood Elementary in Brooklyn Park -- the board voted to close last spring?
"That hasn't been discussed by the board," Green said.
She and district Superintendent Susan Hintz know there are dangers inherent in holding a referendum at the same time voters are choosing a president. Many educators say large Election Day turnouts tend to work against schools because uninformed voters who see a ballot question that involves a tax increase tend to automatically vote against it.
Others have argued that it's often a good idea to go back to the voters after a round of big budget cuts is still fresh in their minds.
"We had the discussions recognizing that this is going to be a tough season, that it's an election year, and that the economy is challenged," Green said. "But we also felt the voters can decide. ... The bottom line is we need the dollars."
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547