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No choice really: Vote yes for kids and Minneapolis schools

Election time is nearing, and we may miss important issues buried within the cacophony of the presidential election. Issues that affect you and me, locally, in Minneapolis — where we live. The “Strong Schools/Strong City” campaign for Minneapolis Public Schools (MSP) is in full swing, as anyone driving our streets can see while passing one of the 3,500 “vote yes” yellow and black signs in yards around our city.

Yes, the campaign has run out of signs to promote the $60 million referendum on the November ballot. This vote transcends the decision of whether or not you agree that our school system needs more money. The success of the referendum requires support from the larger population as the percentage of voters with school-age children stands at 19 percent. So, what are you going to do?

It is widely believed that a well-educated population yields significant benefits to the wider community through improved housing values, workforce quality and overall city and state rankings. In a 1997 UCLA report “Do Better Schools Matter?” each 5 percent  increase in student test scores equaled a 2.5 percent jump in housing prices and an 18-25 percent difference in value between a home assigned to a school in the bottom 5 percent  versus those in the top 5 percent (USLA School Accountability Ratings and Housing Values 2003).

Employee shortfalls coming
Demographers for Minneapolis are predicting serious employee shortfalls in the coming years. Jobs in finance, insurance, educational services, professional, scientific and technical services, health care and social assistance require a well-educated pool of workers. The state of the economy notwithstanding, we cannot allow our education system to continue to deteriorate or we all will experience the consequences.

The MPS referendum is all about funding for basic needs in our schools. Approximately half of the money will go toward purchasing textbooks and technology for schools. Right now, in our schools, many high school students share textbooks with two or three others and there are not enough computers to go around.  These facts were not surprising when I discovered that Minneapolis ranks second from the bottom in per pupil referendum dollars spent at $535 per student. By comparison, Richfield students receive $1,100 and Hopkins $1,552. How can we be expected to compete, retain families and continue to draw businesses with jobs to our marketplace? In addition, monies will go toward programs ensuring all children are reading at grade level by third grade and to ensure all children are prepared for algebra by eighth grade.

The second half of the referendum dollars will go toward the continued management of class-size programs instituted under the last referendum. Many are not happy with the current class sizes even though 100 percent of the monies of the last referendum were directed at class size. Clearly, a better method of funding schools is needed and changes demanded from our legislators. The status quo is forcing us to face this financing situation every 8-10 years.

Fundamental change is needed
Consider how our school leaders ponder the question of “what will be palatable to the public yet meet our needs” each time we face a referendum. This is a tough year to be asking people to face increased property taxes of $203 dollars per year (based on a home valued at $256,000). Fundamental change in the way Minnesota funds education is drastically needed. But, until that time, we have to face the facts and figures of the need, as it is, today. There will be a Referendum Oversight Committee led by former state finance commissioners Jay Kiedrowski (the Rudy Perpich administration) and John Gunyou (Arne Carlson’s administration) to ensure accountability and transparency with the referendum dollars.

Some of you may wonder what will happen if the referendum does not pass. MPS has cut more than $150 million over the past seven years. Without the referendum, the district would need to make an additional $30 million in cuts. This would result in the layoffs of up to 350 classroom teachers, class size increases and other program reductions.

So please, continue down the ballot, past the presidential votes, the local government votes and find the Vote Yes for Kids; Strong Schools, Strong City referendum question and vote Yes. Your community, our children and the future our city, depends on it. I hope everyone understands the far-reaching effects of this vote.

Colleen Simmons is a parent living in the Kenny & Susan B. Anthony school neighborhood, with children in Windom Spanish Dual Immersion, and is a volunteer for the Strong Schools Strong City referendum.

Want to add your voice?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Vonya Ereye on 10/13/2008 - 10:18 pm.

    As one of those 19%, a parent with kids in MPLS schools, I will and have been fighting to defeat this Vote Yes campaign.

    Parents are on to the con game being played on us, particularly in MPLS. Board members complain that teachers are always underpaid and then look me in the eye and admit that at an average salary with benefits in excess of $84,000 they are well paid. I’ll say. On a per hour basis, they have the 3rd highest paid career in the state.

    We are on to the fact that the board refuses to release their books to the owners and shareholders, us tax paying public. Clearly there is plenty to hide in the way money is spent. One of my kids is in kindergarten 1/2 day program, where 6 kids in the class take the bus home. Except they use 2 big buses, 3 kids on each bus. Both buses drive by my house, 1 stops to take my kid home, the other is lost everyday I guess. The teacher just shakes her head and says “well, it’s your tax dollars they are wasting”, but refuses to stand up and point out the hypocrisy.

    The board members tell everyone per pupil spending has not kept up with inflation, but then in private admit that at $18,000 a kid, it’s actually quite high. I don’t know about you, but inflation has been held at bay while per pupil spending has skyrocketed 85% in just 8 years to over $18,000 per pupil in MPLS, which is absolutely an absurd amount of money coming into the system via all sources.

    There is too much mismanagement, misguided focus and downright waste taking place to allow our government monopoly to continue these addictive ways.

    It’s time for parents to stand up and demand more education for our dollars, not more dollars for our education.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/14/2008 - 06:39 am.

    Keeping up with the cost of graduating 50% of students has got to be tough for Minneapolis parents….

    Even before the current financial crisis, I can’t imagine where the parents of the successful half find the resources to pay for the remedial classes their kids need to enter college.

    I look back now at the tuition my wife and I paid for our three boys to attend private schools and have to admit that, even adding the cost of subsidizing the public system at the same time, we got a huge bargain.

  3. Submitted by Ann Berget on 10/14/2008 - 11:24 am.

    The referendum campaign mailings recently sent to voters omit the cost of voting “Yes”: $60M/year, or an average $200+/year property tax increase for homeowners and more for businesses in the first year, more in the subsequent years of this 8 year proposal.

    This doubles the current level of referendum funding, and in my opinion, is an arrogant, overpriced and unwise proposition.

    It appears on a crowded ballot in a crowded year in the hope, I believe, that it will not be closely scrutinized by voters.

    If this referendum request fails, there is NO financial consequence for MPS because the current referendum does
    not expire until the end of 2009. MPS can revise its request to something more reasonable and bring a modified proposal to voters next year without any financial hardship to MPS or its teachers.

    The results from 16 years of referendum dollars simply do not support doubling the referendum size (from $29M to $60M/year) in hopes of producing improvement in student performance. Referendum dollars ($23-29M/year) have flowed into MPS since 1992. That is 16 years of referendum funding. This additional financial support has not produced much improvement for students, although it did secure the hiring of more than 500 additional teachers in the early ’90s. If Supt. Green is accurate in his recent address on the State of the Schools, only one of five measures of student performance, the graduation rate, has actually shown improvement in recent years.

  4. Submitted by Ona Keller on 10/14/2008 - 12:41 pm.

    I am a graduate of the Minneapolis Public Schools and just graduated this May from Wellesley College. I attended college with many graduates of the most prestigious private high schools in the world. I was more than able to hold my own against the prep school kids. College was easy for me compared to the rigorous IB curriculum I learned in high school. I ended up taking extra classes most semesters. So, Mr. Swift, I’m not sure if paying private school tuition was really worth it.

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