MN Voters Approve Fewest K-12 Funding Levies Since 1996

It’s not clear to what extent a backlash on the part of parents on how K-12 public schools are handling their children’s education during the pandemic figures into the dismal results of local school funding measures on the ballot this year.

But parental displeasure over distance learning and lack of direct access to teachers may partly explain why voters across the state approved fewer school operating levies than any year since Bill Clinton was president.

MPR’s report card reflected school districts’ poor performance at the polls.

Minnesota voters this week signed off on just half of school districts’ requests for getting more money into classrooms, marking the lowest approval rate for operating levies in over two decades.

Out of the 34 districts that had put the question to voters, only 17 requests passed in this week’s election. That’s the lowest approval rate since 1996. The vast majority of approvals — 13 out of 17 — were renewals.

Most school bond and capital requests also got the thumbs down from the electorate.

Greg Abbott, communications director for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said it’s tough for districts to raise awareness on funding requests during most presidential years — and it was “doubly difficult in a pandemic because of all the early voting,” he said.

Shakopee school administrators gave advance warning that a negative result would trigger more than $5 million in budget cuts, including dozens of staff. But taxpayers turned down a $9 million operating levy referendum anyway with 54 percent of residents in opposition.

The Shakopee Valley News says the rejection means the district will have to adjust to the new economic realities of the COVID era like everyone else.

That’s in addition to the $2 million in cuts the district will already make the next two years, which will largely affect district administration, paraprofessionals and learning coaches. Those cuts will include Shakopee High School assistant principal, seven digital learning and instructional coaches, 10 paraprofessionals and a reduction of spending on Learning, Teaching and Equity.

The $5.4 million in cuts will be felt across the district. In addition to the 48 full-time-equivalent teaching positions that will be eliminated, fifth grade band and middle school athletics will be cut, along with several more full-time-equivalent positions ranging from custodial staff to paraprofessionals to high school counselors.

Just the same, the Shakopee district plans to begin considering drafting a new operating referendum to put before residents soon. Right after the school board and administrators figure out how so many voters could have gotten the wrong message this time around.