What the Strong Schools Strong City referendum would mean

Nov. 4 is an important day for Americans. As voters, we will have the honor of selecting the next president, as well as other elected officials. During tough economic times like these, the votes we make become even more important. The leaders we elect will make critical decisions that will affect not only our future, but our children’s future.

One of the other issues on the general election ballot is the Minneapolis Schools Strong Schools Strong City referendum. What is this referendum, and what does it mean to our city?

The Strong Schools Strong City referendum is a request to voters to provide additional education funding from local property taxes for Minneapolis Public Schools students. If approved, the referendum would provide Minneapolis Public Schools with $60 million per year for eight years to help drive achievement results for all students. Funds would support education essentials to:

• Improve early reading skills so every child is reading at grade level by third grade (first you learn to read, then you read to learn);

• Enhance our math and science programs so every child is ready for algebra by eighth grade and ready for the future upon graduation;

• Provide up-to-date technology and textbooks so every child has the learning materials he or she needs to succeed; and

• Manage class sizes in a renewal of the last referendum.

School districts rely on local property taxpayer dollars to help pay for educating a community’s children. Several years of insufficient state funding, increasing costs and unfunded mandates have stretched the Minneapolis Public Schools budget so thin that it has cut more than $150 million since 2001. Providing a high quality education requires stable funding.

If the referendum levy is not approved, the current levy will expire, so Minneapolis Public Schools would need to cut an additional $30 million from the annual budget. More cuts could mean layoffs of up to 350 teachers and class size increases of up to 10 students per classroom. It would also seriously jeopardize the district’s ability to support other education essentials.

We believe in being accountable for the resources our taxpayers entrust to us. If this referendum is approved, an independent Referendum Oversight Committee led by two former Finance Commissioners from the state of Minnesota would monitor and report on the use of referendum dollars.

This is a time of progress and promise in Minneapolis. More families are choosing to send their students to the Minneapolis Public Schools, with schools across the district successfully attracting and retaining more students than projected. Our students are doing well in some areas — winning academic awards, being profiled in the media for their successes and serving as role models for other students. Unfortunately, we also have students who are not doing so well. We cannot rest until all Minneapolis Schools students are achieving at high levels and graduating ready for college.

This is also a time of great challenge — both locally and nationally. As a country, we are facing tough economic times. Families are worried about paying for food, gas and health care. Businesses are worried about making payroll. Nonprofits are worried about meeting the needs of their communities. The issues we face are important, and they require our best thinking.

Be sure you learn all you can about the many issues on the ballot and be proud to use your right to vote. To learn more about the Strong Schools Strong City referendum, visit www.mpls.k12.mn.us/referendum, leave a message at 668-0666 or e-mail referendum@mpls.k12.mn.us.

Bill Green is superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.