Labor gets behind school bonds, levies in East Metro

Organized labor is boosting efforts to fund new investments in several East Metro public school districts, including a record-breaking building referendum in the White Bear Lake Area Schools.

Levy and bond referendums empower communities to invest in their schools’ programming, facilities and technology – investments that always pay off in the long run, St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper said.

“Great schools are the bedrock of every strong community,” Kasper said. “They educate our future workforce and attract good employers to our area.

“That’s why, as a labor movement, we usually support operating levy and bond referendums as down payments on our economic future.”

The St. Paul RLF, which unites local unions from Ramsey, Chisago, Dakota and Washington counties, has endorsed levy requests on the Nov. 5 ballot in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, Lakeville, Mounds View and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan districts, as well as a separate bond request in Lakeville.

But the referendum in White Bear Lake is the biggest of the bunch.

District leaders have pitched a $326 million package of technological, facility and safety improvements that would touch every building and program in the school system.

It’s the largest school bond referendum ever to appear on a ballot in Minnesota, and it comes after months of strategic planning, which brought together residents with and without children, business owners, teachers and other district staff.

Even if it passes, property owners in the White Bear district would still be paying less toward school debt, about $275 per year, than their counterparts in neighboring districts, who average about $317 per year. And taxpayers who file for the state’s property tax refund would see their burden cut by as much as 80 percent.

Meanwhile, the building referendum provides an opportunity to address issues that have been bubbling to the surface within the community for over a decade, like concerns about school safety and changing technology, as well as an expanding student population.

Tiffany Dittrich, president of the White Bear Lake Teachers Association, said the district anticipates an influx of up to 2,000 students over the next 10 years.

“We’re currently at capacity,” Dittrich said. “So it’s critically important that we have additional classroom space to be able to support those students.”

The building referendum also would fund construction of a unified high school in the district, which currently splits students between north and south campuses. Dittrich, in her 23rd year as a language arts teacher at White Bear, said a single-site high school is “something the community has wanted for a long time.”

With improvements proposed at every school site, and a brand new elementary school in Hugo, the White Bear bond would create hundreds of construction jobs. It would also strengthen and support existing jobs in the district, which maintains 11 different collective bargaining agreements with local unions.

Dittrich said she isn’t taking anything for granted, but she remains hopeful the referendum will pass Nov. 5.

“In my experience, the residents of the White Bear community support their schools,” she said. “That support has contributed to an environment that empowers me to support students and allow them to thrive educationally.”

 

Trackbacks

  1. […] The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, endorsed 25 candidates on the ballot in 2019, and 23 won their races. All six school levy and bond referendums endorsed by the federation won voter approval, including a record-breaking, $326 million facilities investment in the White Bear Lake school district. […]

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