School levy wins don’t quiet calls for more state money

.ST. PAUL (AP) – Two-thirds of Minnesota school districts got the go-ahead from voters to tap into their property tax base for more classroom money.

Yet Wednesday’s post-election mood was more subdued than celebratory, and the calls for state leaders to boost their financial commitment to schools only grew louder.

The Minnesota School Boards Association reported that 61 districts won on all questions, 32 lost out entirely and six had a split verdict on the multiple questions they had on the ballot.

In places where levies failed, school boosters agonized over looming budget cuts. People from victorious districts vented their frustration about having to repeatedly plead with voters to raise property taxes to keep programs afloat.

Stillwater parent Beverly Petrie said levy backers there raised and spent $50,000 and treated the volunteer campaign like a second full-time job. An inflation-adjusted extension of an existing levy prevailed but two other questions failed – an outcome Petrie said “will allow our district to keep heads above water.”

“This levy money is not paying for frills,” Petrie said of the $10 million tax measure voters approved. “We worked like dogs to pass a levy so our district could have money for copy paper. We worked like dogs to pass a levy so our class sizes won’t top out at 40.”

Tuesday’s votes were the most closely watched in years. Statewide, 99 districts had questions on the ballot. It marked the highest number since 2001, when state-enacted property tax cuts allowed school leaders to promote pain-free levies that wouldn’t cause a homeowners overall tax bill to rise.

This time, voters in most places had to choose between higher property taxes and school offerings.

If all the levies had passed, property taxes would have risen $228 million. Department of Education officials estimated the post-vote impact at $165 million.

Monticello voters were willing to pay more for gifted and talented programs and updated technology. White Bear Lake residents avoided layoffs and school closings by approving a tax increase.

Sauk Centre lost its bid for money to add all-day, everyday kindergarten. Big Lake’s class-size reducation hopes were dashed.

Frazee-Vergas finally got over the hump, winning a $1,000 per student levy after four previous defeats spurred talk the district could be wiped off the map.

A losing streak continued in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, or ACGC, district. The third levy in 12 months went down – this time by 23 votes out of more than 2,000 cast.

A $650 per student levy remains in place, but that’s little consolation in a district trying to emerge from the school equivalent of bankruptcy. The request was to add $425 per pupil and seven years to the levy.