Ballot amendment calls for new support for state’s public schools

Bei Hu

Minneapolis residents approved a referendum Tuesday that will allow their school district to retain several hundred teachers who were hired to improve student’s performance by reducing class sizes.
With 107 of 145 precincts reporting at press time, 69.5 percent of the voters supported the measure, which will raise $32 million per year for the next five years. About 30.4 percent opposed the extra levy.
Minneapolis has 65 public elementary schools and 15 public high schools with a total enrollment of about 47,000 students.
Minneapolis residents in 1990 passed the Minneapolis Schools Referendum, which promised to better the public school system by, among other things, reducing class sizes and hiring more staff.
Without passage of this year’s referendum, the district risked losing 500 teachers and 100 clerks, educational assistants and other support staff. Authorization for the 1990 referendum would have run out at the end of the year.
Although statistics show that 95 percent of the elementary schools have improved in performance since class sizes were reduced, the district’s reputation was clouded by studies showing Minneapolis public school students trailing the national average on standard tests by large margins.
The school board plans to raise the extra $166 million dollars by collecting another $585 per pupil in 1997 and gradually increasing that amount to $705 per pupil in 2001.
This year’s ballot also included two proposed amendments to the state constitution.
Minnesotans also appeared to have passed a one-time compensation payment to Minnesota residents who served in the U.S. armed forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. With 58 percent of the precincts reporting at press time, about 65 percent of the voters favored the measure.
The amendment authorizes the Legislature to determine the eligibility for such compensation and the amounts to be paid. Up to 42,000 veterans may get $300 or $600 payments, which will cost the state about $16 million.
Another constitutional amendment that appeared to have passed will give Minnesotans the ability to recall elected public officials, including state constitutional officers, judges and legislators before their appointed terms end. With 58 percent of the precincts reporting, 88 percent of the voters supported the amendment.
This will be accomplished by a multi-step process, involving petitions, court reviews and special elections.
In addition, Minneapolis residents also cast their votes on two amendments to the city charter. The first would allow the city council to keep its current election system, whereby all city council members run for election at the same time. The other amendment would permit restaurants with at least 70 percent food sales to obtain licenses to sell wine and beer.