Now, the district is back with another request on the Nov. 3 ballot, seeking $161 million over two unique referendums. Supporters of the local “Vote Yes” campaign, including parents, students and local unions, acknowledge facing an uphill climb.
But Forest Lake Education Association President Allison Whittlef said she’s holding out hope “due to the grassroots movement of community champions who are actively seeking support and communicating with residents in a variety of ways.
“With the passage of this bond an already robust education setting will be made stronger by providing quality facilities and improved opportunities for all learners. But help is needed from the local level to make a good system great.”
The Forest Lake district isn’t alone in seeking support from local taxpayers. A recent survey of the state’s school districts, conducted by the Minnesota School Boards Association, showed a record 68 districts seeking building bond or capital project levies this year, in addition to 53 districts seeking operating levies.
Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said it’s difficult to generalize the many reasons districts put levies on the ballot. Enrollment increases and aging schools are contributing factors, she said, as are rising costs of transportation, health care, security and information technology.
School districts have seen the state’s per-pupil funding formula increase each year that Mark Dayton has served as governor. But Specht said those increases haven’t made up for a decade of disinvestment prior to the Dayton administration, when state funding failed to keep pace with inflation.
“Getting back to even could take a few more years,” she said. State funding increases, Specht added, often go toward operating costs, leaving little left over to pay for capital improvements – like repairing a leaky roof in Forest Lake, or updating the technology available to students in the Lakeville Area Public Schools.
“Our per-pupil funding from the state is currently at 2004 levels when adjusted for inflation,” said Don Sinner, president of the Lakeville teachers’ union. “After several years of cuts, we need to finally provide the children of our communities, every single one of them, with the high-quality learning environment and opportunities they deserve – and the economy of the future needs.”
Levies enjoy broad labor support, both in the East Metro and statewide – and not just because school districts employ a lot of union members. Strong schools help build strong communities, Whittlef said.
“With the passage of the bond, our community will prosper by attracting families and businesses to our area,” Whittlef said. “That in turn will create expanded job and career opportunities for our fellow brothers and sisters.”
Other labor-endorsed “Vote Yes” campaigns in the East Metro include referendums in the Farmington, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and South Washington County school districts. Click here to view a full list of labor endorsed school referendums and candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot across the East Metro.