Opinion: Why I'll be Voting NO on Bloomington Referendum

Small_referendum-1.jpgThe personal opinions expressed here are not a formal position of Senate District 49 Republicans, but rather presented for consideration as you weigh your own decision on the referendum. Carol Brumwell was on her way to become a Math teacher when the computer-age captured her career path instead. Now retired, she volunteers for a literacy nonprofit as well as SD49. She’s owned a home in Bloomington more than 30 years.

Everyone wants great schools. Everyone in the city and state benefits when our schools are great and give kids an excellent start to informed lives and fulfilling careers.  Renew current funding? Sure, and I’m counting on the fact that such a renewal can be proposed in 2018, before the current authorized levy expires.  Maybe even increase by a percent or two to be sure teachers can focus attention on helping our kids learn.

But increasing the Bloomington per-pupil funding immediately by 25% ($465 increase, from $1472 to $1937), with yearly inflation raises on top of that, as this ballot’s version of the referendum proposes,  isn’t reasonable.  My research found that an increase of that size hasn’t been adequately justified, and I’ll be voting NO.

For me to vote “Yes”, the school administrators and school board must come back next year with a better, needs-tied, number.  They should also present a plan for how they’ll effectively deliver on core skills education as well as nice-to-haves.  And please, communicate both of these in an adult manner to adult tax-payers.

Here’s the information I found:

Besides the 25% increase, the referendum also includes an automatic yearly inflation adjustment.  That’s not mentioned in most literature but is listed on the school district’s referendum page. “If approved, the operating referendum authority would extend for 10 years and include an inflationary factor. Without the inflationary factor, the purchasing power of the referendum revenue would decline as inflation rises each year.”

 

My research found that although the state legislature’s school funding 2% increase took care of standard inflation concerns, some area schools (Bloomington isn’t mentioned) are reporting that extra funds are still needed for rising pension and health care costs for school staff, education for English as a second language learners, and meeting obligations for special education students .

To me, stating that “other nearby communities spend more” rings as false as a child’s claim that “all the other kids are doing it”. Although Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park spend more, we are middle of the chart on per-student spending.  Other higher-performing (by test scores, with better or equal graduation rates) nearby schools like Edina and Burnsville spend less per pupil than Bloomington. 

More money doesn’t lead to success on the basics, and when a school fails to deliver effectively on the basics of reading and math, it’s failed the essential mission. 40% of Bloomington students don’t meet requirements for reading, 47% don’t meet requirements for math. Only 79% of eligible students graduated, compared with 87% just 2 years ago.

Bloomington currently employs 1 licensed teacher (642 total) per 16 students (10,200 students).  We have a long way to go (if a 25% funding increase isn’t approved) to decline to the worst-case class size of 30 mentioned in letters.

This proposed increase appears to have been tossed out as a “wouldn’t it be nice” number, asking for the maximum allowed amount without a single concrete example of any current or future projected shortfalls that funding would address.  It’s been communicated by a Kindergarten-style cute cartoon video, school-funded (i.e. paid for by taxpayers), that brags vaguely about historic strong community support, and cites meaningless poll numbers that essentially say “everybody wants great schools”. Narrated by a child’s voice it has zero actual justification for the 25% increase. 

The video also includes a deceptive “graph” of the inflation rate compared with level student population, without any scale on the graph or inclusion of the state-level funding adjustments. Nationally, the yearly inflation rate was 1.67 the past 10 years, forecast is 1.99% for next year.  The Met Council is reporting a 6.5 % (all-ages) population growth in Bloomington since 2010 (about 1% yearly) and is forecasting  an additional 8% population growth in Bloomington by 2030 (about 1/2 % yearly). 

The numbers just don’t add up.

So, I’ll be voting “No” on this referendum, with the expectation that a better-structured and explained version will be on the ballot next year.

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