Voters in many areas across Minnesota will go to the polls Tuesday to elect local officials including mayors, city council members and school board members. Some will also make choices about school spending that will have a more direct impact on household budgets.
Before Election Day, citizens will need to do their homework to better inform their all-important votes. Circumstances in each school district vary, making it critical that voters examine the issues carefully and balance district and student wants and needs with what taxpayers can afford.
In general, districts are asking voters for more money to fund school operations, new buildings, and building improvements and technology. More than 100 requests will be on ballots next week, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. A total of 65 districts are taking capital bond requests to voters, and 52 are seeking support for general operations. Some have more than one request on the ballot.
In the Twin Cities metro area, 16 of the 40-member Association of Metropolitan School Districts are seeking operating funds, but some requests are for renewals of previously approved levies. Eleven metro-area district requests are bond proposals for capital spending for new construction and expanding and upgrading facilities.
Among them is one of the state’s largest districts, Anoka-Hennepin, where officials are seeking $249 million to upgrade high schools and build two elementary buildings.
Some districts need more space for students because the population of school-age children within their boundaries is growing. Others have more kids to accommodate because of open enrollment — a state policy that allows students to transfer into schools outside their home districts.
A recent Star Tribune series showed that more than 48,000 suburban students took advantage of school-choice options in 2016-17. In Roseville, for example, nearly 19 percent of the district’s students come from outside the inner-ring suburb. That district is seeking a $144 million capital levy for facility enhancements and school additions to accommodate the enrollment growth. The request would add $340 to $400 per year to the property tax bill for a $250,000 home.
Although state per-pupil funding for schools increased 2 percent this year and will do so again in 2018, school leaders say they still must go to voters to help fund inflation, chronically underfunded special education programs and English language learner services, among other programs.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board is not taking a position on any of the referendums. We urge voters to do their research and consider the arguments for and against the requests.
The Minnesota School Boards Association website, www.mnmsba.org, lists the districts that have bond and levy referendums, along with the amounts and purposes. Voters should also visit district websites, some of which have calculators to help them determine how much their tax bills would increase if requests are approved.