I’ve been a parent for a long time. Although the current Minneapolis school referendum slogan is “Yes for Kids,” here’s one thing I know: Sometimes the best thing a parent can do for a kid is say “No.”
The Star Tribune editorial on the current Minneapolis school referendum (“Voters can help boost Minneapolis schools,” Oct. 27) identified me as an opponent of this year’s renewal proposal. That is correct. I do oppose renewal of this tax surcharge. Here’s why:
In 1990, I served as a co-organizer of the first Better Schools Referendum. It was a focused proposal to raise $23 million to reduce class sizes and support early childhood education. I believed it was a worthy effort at the time, and I worked hard to pass it.
Later I was elected to the board of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and served two terms. Accountability was important to me during my board years.
It’s 26 years later now, two whole K-12 cycles of education. The extra money has not produced results.
MPS is back again with a vague (some say stealthy) referendum renewal campaign with an annual price tag of $74 million. Again? Really? Hmmm ... maybe not this time. After all, what has improved in all these years? What are Minneapolis taxpayers getting for the money? It’s reasonable to ask, isn’t it?
You might think MPS would want to publicize the successes resulting from this infusion of money, big bucks actually, approximately $1.2 billion since that first MPS excess levy referendum passed. Not so. Evidence of success is hard to find, and it’s difficult to track where the referendum tax dollars go anymore. All this tax money collected and spent, but the latest MPS figures show 41 percent of all students “falling further behind” in the 2015-16 school year.
MPS’s own data charts, hiding in plain sight on the website but identified by acronyms and jargon recognized best by school administrators, show students are not doing better, in spite of more than two decades of this extra money. In fact, 41 percent of students are doing worse than they were even a few years ago.
What does that mean? Why is no one talking about it?
The campaign for this referendum is notable in its silence. You’d almost think MPS is hoping voters will not notice that they have no information on what this costly tax surcharge has accomplished. It prompts me to wonder who actually cares whether students succeed or fail as long as the revenue stream is not interrupted.
Where is the public accountability for $1.2 billion in extra taxes to help students succeed? That’s a lot of money and it’s pretty clear that enormous numbers of students are still not succeeding. Improved student outcomes, that’s what the money was for, wasn’t it? Is student failure just something to throw money at and consider the job done? Does it even matter anymore if the money actually does not produce improvement?
Something is seriously wrong, something that money has not fixed in 26 years. Is it possible that money cannot fix what is causing students to “fall further behind”? Is anyone asking? Does anyone want to know? You could fool me.
In recent years, lackluster MPS boards have lurched from crisis to crisis, often with adverse financial consequences and marked lack of respect for the public they serve. Its recent extended superintendent crises have not inspired confidence.
Michael Casserly, head of the national Council of Great City Schools since 1992, recently facilitated a retreat for the current board and its latest superintendent, Ed Graff. Casserly was quoted in this paper saying that the current board’s strategy for improving student success was no strategy at all, and that he had never seen such an approach improve student outcomes.
Nothing about MPS at this time, its current leadership, approach to the future, or performance history should lead a reasonable person to say “Yes for Kids” once again. More taxpayer money has not improved outcomes for students since we started this 26 years ago.
The referendum that first passed in 1990 was never intended to be a permanent tax. Funding K-12 education is, after all, a state responsibility, not a local one.
It’s time to say “No,” as good parents sometimes must, and then get down to the tough job of figuring out what actually works.
Ann Berget was a member of the Minneapolis School Board from 1992 to 1999.