Funding for public schools to be on ballot

A long list of candidates is not the only thing Minneapolis voters will see on their election ballots next week. The âÄúStrong Schools Strong City,âÄù referendum for Minneapolis Public Schools will also be presented, asking property owners to support public schools in the city with a $60 million tax per year for eight years. In 2000, voters approved a similar referendum which added $615 tax dollars per student to the district’s base funding. This yearâÄôs referendum would almost double that to $1,200 per student, according to the Strong Schools Strong City campaign website. According to Minneapolis Public School officials, the new referendum would maintain the $30 million devoted to managing class sizes from the 2000 referendum, while the additional $30 million would go to funding early-age reading, math and science, and up-to-date textbooks and technology. Dan Loewenson, assistant to the superintendent at Minneapolis Public Schools, said rising costs and a slowdown in state funding forces the districtâÄôs schools to ask voters for additional funding. âÄúIt is a very common vehicle that now has to be used to raise funding beyond state and federal dollars,âÄù he said. State law refers to the referendum as an âÄúexcess levy,âÄù but Courtney Cushing Kiernat, co-chairwoman of the referendumâÄôs campaign, said the cityâÄôs schools arenâÄôt asking for excess, they are asking for academic essentials. With early literacy, math and science goals, as well as up to date technology and textbooks, Kiernat hopes students will be better prepared for college and life. âÄúEven if a person chooses not to attend a college, a quality high school education is key to success in the community,âÄù she said. Kiernat also said there is a built-in accountability measure in the new referendum. The Referendum Oversight Committee comes along with the $60 million, and would be led by two former Minnesota Finance Commissioners. Their job would be to monitor and report on the use of referendum dollars. If the referendum does not pass, Minneapolis Public Schools could cut 350 teachers, and class sizes could go up six to 10 students per classroom, Kiernat said. Peter Sylvestre, a materials science senior at the University, graduated from MinneapolisâÄô South High School in 2003 and said he noticed the effects of budget cuts while he was still attending. Sylvestre said sports and arts funding decreased, and he noticed class sizes increase, even with the 2000 referendum. âÄúI think itâÄôs a really good idea,âÄù he said. âÄúI started seeing a lot of affects of budget cuts then, and itâÄôs only gone downhill from there, IâÄôve heard.âÄù University of Minnesota students, many of whom are renters, have the option to vote for the referendum, but may not see their taxes increase. The referendum taxes property owners, many of whom are struggling with the current state of the economy, Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said. Krinkie said Minneapolis Public Schools get more funding per pupil than any other district in the state, and also have the lowest graduation rates. âÄúI think the challenge with the Minneapolis school district is they just have systemic problems,âÄù he said. âÄúThe reality is to just go out and say we need more doesnâÄôt seem to be very responsible in the context that low-income families are struggling more now than they have in years.âÄù Krinkie said he thinks all institutions need to try and achieve better results with existing revenues. An April study looking into graduation rates in the United StatesâÄô 50 largest cities found Minneapolis was ranked 47th, with a 43.7 percent graduation rate. James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator at the Southeast Como Improvement Association , said members of the association have been somewhat hesitant about supporting the referendum. âÄúThese people have supported schools in the past,âÄù De Sota said, but they became upset after the 2000 referendum failed to manage class sizes. They were also upset by the April 2007 closure of the Tuttle Community School in Southeast Como, after the referendum promised to keep it open, he said. âÄúThey are so frustrated that they donâÄôt feel like they can support the school systems based on their performance,âÄù he said.