Voter Guide: Minneapolis Public Schools referenda

Minneapolis Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools is asking voters to approve two funding questions that would generate $30 million annually.

The district is looking to maximize its operating levy and establish a capital projects levy, or a technology levy, to pay for existing technology costs. The proposals would annually raise $18 million and $12 million, respectively, if approved. Each would be authorized for seven years beginning in 2019, with the revenue becoming available to the district next school year.

The questions come as Superintendent Ed Graff looks to stabilize the district’s finances after years of budget shortfalls. The district has already been working toward fiscal stability under Graff’s leadership, passing a budget for 2018-19 that didn’t rely on reserve funds and reviewing all of its programming and services. It’s also working at the state Legislature to increase revenue for special education and English-learner services.

“Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that we’re focused on our student achievement and the well-being of our students,” Graff said. “The utilization of these funds will be to support those areas and our priorities.”

On its website, the district says that current funding falls short, noting that it received $60 million less than the cost of the special education and English-learner services it provided in 2017. It says without new revenue it will have to make tough decisions that potentially impact programming throughout the district.

“Put simply, we need additional resources to meet the needs of our students,” Graff said.

The referenda come two years after Minneapolis voters approved a renewal of the district’s expiring operating referendum by a five-to-one margin. The district says it didn’t ask for more money at the time because it had a structurally unbalanced budget and did not feel it could responsibly ask voters for more.

In an interview this summer, School Board Vice Chair Siad Ali noted that the board unanimously approved placing the referenda on the ballot.

“This will give us an opportunity to reach more families,” he said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Minneapolis Public Schools, but we need these resources to succeed.”

The referenda would result in about an $11 a month tax increase on a $250,000 home, if approved. Graff noted several available property-tax refunds, including one for homeowners who live in their home and whose net property tax increased by more than 12 percent from 2017 to 2018. Another is available to homeowners with incomes of less than $110,650 (more information about the refund programs is at mpls.k12.mn.us/property_tax_refund).

More information about the referenda can be found at mpls.k12.mn.us/referendum.

A local committee has also set up a campaign to support the referenda, called Yes for Mpls Kids. Honorary campaign co-chars are Mayor Jacob Frey, state Rep. Fue Lee, Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene, City Council President Lisa Bender, City Council Member Alondra Cano and Park Board Interim Superintendent Mary Merrill.

Nearly every elected official in Minneapolis has endorsed the campaign, per the Yes for Mpls Kids website. The committee behind it, the Committee for Better Schools, raised $10,760.48 and spent $1,261.71 from Jan. 1 to July 31 of 2018, according to a report filed with Hennepin County. That fundraising total included a $10,000 donation from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers’ political fund.

The committee had $16,378.48 on hand to start the year.

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