MPS details levy proposals

Would raise $30 million annually

Minneapolis Public Schools leaders are hoping voters will allocate more money to the district this November.

The district hopes to ask voters to increase its operating levy by roughly $18 million annually. It also hopes to ask voters to establish a capital projects levy, projected to generate nearly $12 million annually.

The referenda need School Board approval before they can be brought to voters. If subsequently approved by voters, the district would begin seeing the additional revenue in the 2019-20 school year.

The referenda would be one part of the district’s effort to balance its budget by 2019-20. MPS faces a projected $33 million budget deficit for 2018-19, after years of deficits, and doesn’t have the reserve funds to make up the gap. That’s forcing the district to consider budget cuts for a second straight year.

The district is also planning to advocate for more funding for special education and English learner programs and services at the state Legislature.

“The support that we receive for these two critical services has not measured up to what that commitment was, made many years ago by the federal government,” Superintendent Ed Graff said. “We’ve never been reimbursed as a school district for the 100 percent cost of special education services that was initially proposed and promised.”

MPS would have received roughly an additional $64 million last school year if it was fully reimbursed for those services, Graff said.

MPS already draws roughly $1,600 per pupil from its operating levy, first approved by voters in 2008 and renewed in 2016. The levy goes toward managing class sizes and providing support services and activities for students.

Increasing the levy would help the district maintain current levels of services.

The capital projects levy would go toward technology, on which the district spent almost $12 million last year, Graff said. The proposed levy would free up operating revenue for other services.

More than 20 other metro districts have capital projects levies in place to address technology costs, Graff said. Districts use them for costs such as hardware and software licenses as well as for staff who work directly with technology, MPS lobbyist Josh Downham said.

The district projects the referenda would increase annual taxes by $83 for a residential property valued at $150,000. It projects a $175 annual increase for a residential property valued at $300,000 and a $491 annual increase for a residential property valued at $800,000.

Downham expressed confidence voters would approve the levies. More than 83 percent of voters approved the referendum renewal in 2016.

School Board treasurer Jenny Arneson said the referenda are necessary to help the district pay for its services.

“This is how the state is preferring us to pay for education these days,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s necessarily the right choice, but what choice do we have?”

Graff said he’s hoping to get School Board approval on the referenda in February.