Fund public schools

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s fervor for lightening taxpayers’ burden is choking off vital funds to Minnesota’s public schools. Last December, Ventura proposed cutting $9 million in basic expenses for K-12 schools; one month later he announced that he also opposes any increase in basic school funding. All this in a time when schools are forced to cut after-school and band programs and even teaching positions due to lack of funding. Now Ventura has expanded his influence to a recent referendum and the result might be school closings.

Since fall, Minnesota school districts have struggled to bridge enormous funding gaps. In some districts parents have subsidized straight out of their pockets services such as bussing and have paid to keep teaching positions in their schools. On Nov. 6, an unprecedented 188 districts across Minnesota voted on levy referendums for property-tax increases; 70 percent passed statewide, but in the metro area a shocking 22 of 32 failed. This failure has been attributed by some to Ventura’s charges – made shortly before the voting – that voters in Osseo were being misled about the funding request’s tax impact. Ventura further accused several districts of mishandling funds and significantly weakened – by as much as 50 percent say critics ñ voters’ belief that schools need more funding. As a result of the failed tax increase request, three of the area’s largest suburban districts might resort to closing schools.

Osseo, Anoka-Hennepin and North St. Paul/Maplewood/Oakdale have all looked to closings as an option to make the $9 million in cuts that are now necessary. Osseo is considering closing two elementary schools; North St. Paul/Maplewood/Oakdale anywhere from one to three and Anoka-Hennepin is looking at pushing back the opening of the district’s new high school. Parents in these districts are outraged and many assert that if they had known this was a possibility, more would have voted in favor of the referendum.

Clearly the price of Ventura’s single-minded concerns will be paid by Minnesota school children. Even if the districts choose to close schools, other cuts will be required; in Osseo the closings will only save the district $850,000 next year, forcing remaining schools to cut faculty and programs. This is particularly disturbing considering the increased enrollment they will face. Under these conditions, schools in Minnesota will be substandard. It is unfortunate that our Governor so undervalues education.

In leading voters to reduced confidence in the necessity of school funding, he has done a disservice to the state. Economic benefits of lower taxes might pay off now – though they just as easily might not – but failing to appropriate enough funding to properly staff schools will surely have a profound and negative impact on the future of Minnesota’s youth.