School districts’ losing streak continues as voters again reject most referendums

It’s become a pattern. School districts continue to put referendum proposals before voters around the state, most recently on May 11. Just as predictably, an increasingly skeptical electorate keeps rejecting more of those proposals than not.

It happened again this week when seven school districts put a total of 12 referendum questions before local voters for projects ranging from $685,000 to $81.5 million. The results were more lopsided than the referendum votes held earlier in February and April with participants turning down nine of the 12 funding proposals.

School districts outside the Twin Cities went 0-for-9, losing every referendum question in the five communities going to the polls in Greater Minnesota. (Some districts put more than one question on the ballot.) Taxpayers in Annandale, Becker, Byron, Cannon Falls and Upsala uniformly rejected their schools’ extra funding requests across the board.

Two metro area districts, Edina and Lakeville, prevented educators from being completely routed at the polls. Voters in the two south metro suburbs approved a total of three referendum questions before them.

The Byron school district in southern Minnesota went back to taxpayers after losing a $58 million referendum just last year, the Rochester Post Bulletin noted.

Even though last year’s referendum failed, there were several voters who were hopeful about a different outcome, drawing distinctions between the two versions. For one, the 2020 referendum came at a time of great uncertainty as the pandemic was just getting underway. The overall cost of the referendum was also higher during the first version in 2020.

“I just think the economic outlook for everybody is so different now,” said Suzanne Birch, who voted in favor of this year’s referendum. “There was such an unknown last year.”

But the result turned out the same with opponents telling the paper they can’t afford it.

For others, though, cost of the referendum was still a little too much to support. Don Voll described the proposed referendum as a “waste of money.” He went on to say that the referendum wasn’t about the classrooms, but other, unnecessary additions.

Elvira Broton, who has lived in Byron for 60 years, also voted “no.”

“My taxes keep going up and up. I live on Social Security, and they’re going to force me right out of my house if the taxes keep going,” she said. “Not everybody can have everything they want when they want it, and this town is notorious for raising taxes.”

So far this year, Minnesota voters have rejected almost two-thirds of the school referendums drummed up by school districts. It’s become a pattern that administrators have to be concerned may outlast the pandemic.