The St. Paul School District is preparing to ask voters for more money in the fall, with results of a survey made public Tuesday night indicating residents are willing to OK the additional taxes.
About two-thirds of 600 registered voters interviewed by phone in May said that they favor paying more to invest in schools and avoid budget cuts, according to a presentation to school board members.
Told of the potential benefits of such a proposal, and consequences if it were to fail, support among respondents rose to 72 percent.
The district has yet to specify how much it wants to raise or how it would spend any new money. But the presentation by Springsted Inc. comes as Superintendent Joe Gothard puts the final touches on a new strategic plan for the state's second-largest district.
In November 2012, St. Paul voters backed $39 million a year in school funding for eight years, only to see the district forced to make cuts in each of the last four budget cycles. Board members have grappled with a $17.2 million deficit in a 2018-19 budget to be adopted next week.
A request for new operating money would aim to do more than shore up district finances. But one figure pitched in the survey — a $125-per-year tax increase on the city's average home — would raise just under $17 million — not quite enough to erase next year's deficit.
"That would just allow us to maintain," board Member Mary Vanderwert said. "It is not moving us forward."
Earlier this year, the district settled a new contract with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers calling for the two sides to work together to raise revenue.
One proposed vehicle was a referendum, with proceeds potentially being directed to special education and English language learner programs, mental health supports and "other priorities as determined by the strategic plan," a contract provision states.
Nearly 72 percent of survey respondents said that they would be more likely to back a tax increase due to the district's perceived inability to keep pace with costs associated with English language learning and poverty.
Springsted Inc. also surveyed residents in 2012, and found then that 66 percent of respondents would back a proposal to raise taxes by $45 per year on the district's median-valued home. Support fell to 39 percent if the proposed increase was $125 per year.
This year's survey, which cost the district $30,500, suggests that residents may be ready to dig deeper.
Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they would support a $75 per year increase and 58 percent would back $125 per year.
The 2012 proposal included the renewal of $30 million per year in spending plus $9 million per year in new money for a technology initiative that put iPads in the hands of all students — the largest 1:1 initiative in the state.
Since then, the district has seen a change in leadership beginning with four board members being elected under a Caucus for Change banner in 2015. Then Superintendent Valeria Silva was ousted in 2016 and Gothard was hired in 2017. He took over with a directive to set a new course for the district — a path that will take shape with the strategic plan and referendum.
Board Member John Brodrick, the lone holdover from the board that called for the 2012 referendum, noted recently that 80 percent of residents do not have children in the district.
He said spending details will be needed when advocates go door-to-door to make their case. Six years ago, he said, technology was "easy to sell at the barber shop." Now, he said, moves to make schools safer and strengthen vocational training could appeal to voters.
The school board has until August to finalize the referendum language.
Minneapolis Public Schools also plans to go to the voters for more money in the fall. It did not commission a survey to gauge support.