Ric Oliva is the Republican chair of Bloomington Precinct 23. He is also the chair of the Bloomington School Board. We asked him why he personally supports the Bloomington operating referendum that will be up for a vote this November. He made clear that he is not allowed to advocate for or against ballot questions in an official capacity as School Board Chair and cannot speaking on behalf of the Bloomington School Board or Bloomington School District. The following are his own opinions, representing the facts “to the best of my knowledge.
In November the Bloomington School Board will be asking voters to approve an operating referendum that would replace the current referendum and increase funding by approximately $465 per pupil per year for the next ten years. The state legislature caps the per pupil funding amount and length of operating referenda. If approved, the district would receive the maximum amount allowed for the next ten years, giving Bloomington Public Schools the greatest opportunity to maintain its excellent programming. In 2007 the voters approved what was then the maximum amount, and the District is asking for their support again.
An increase is necessary to bridge the gap between what we receive from the State in funding and our increase in expenses. The Bloomington Public School (BPS) District receives approximately 70% of its funding from the State. While the state typically gives a 1-2% increase to the funding formula each year, that increase does not keep up with inflation. The state did increase their school funding formula to 2% this year, but this still resulted in only a 1.4% increase relative to the BPS District budget.
To compensate for this shortfall in funding, the School District has spent down a fair amount of its reserves as well as made significant budget reductions. Although every effort is made to minimize the impact to the classroom, with 85-90% of the budget going towards salaries, there is not much else to cut.
Some of the results can be seen in slightly higher class sizes, higher fees, and reduction of electives at the secondary level. It is important to note, however, that the School District actively pursues ways to save money. For example, BPS is a self-insured district, which saves approximately $1 million per year. It owns and operates its own school buses, which saves an additional $350,000 per year.
If the referendum should fail this year, the School District would have one more chance to pass it in 2018. If it were to fail again in 2018, we would see an immediate loss of over $17 million in revenue per year, or roughly 11% of the overall District budget. While the District cannot say exactly what would be cut, a look at what neighboring districts have done as well as what has been discussed at open Board meetings reveals some possibilities. These include, but are not limited to, increased class sizes, closing schools, and reducing non-essential academic opportunities.
I have heard from some constituents that we already do too much. They say, “Schools should only be teaching reading, writing, and math and have no need for gym, health, art, music, or sports.” If that is what they truly believe, then for them it would probably make sense to close a couple of schools and increase classes to 30 or more, and they should vote “No.” I do not believe that is what our community wants.
I think our community values our innovative programming and student supports. Consider
- “Nobel,” an honors humanities curriculum that acts as an extension of our gifted and talented program.
- “Project Lead the Way,” a STEM program that has been introduced in our Middle Schools.
- Our “Career and College Academy”, preparing students for life after high school and giving them an opportunity to receive career certifications and college credits for free.
I think parents of school-aged children are glad their kids do not have to walk two miles to school. We are able to provide need-based support so all students may share in such meaningful experiences as field trips, jazz band, school musicals, and graduation ceremonies.
Unfortunately, these things cost money, which brings us back to the topic of this letter. I am not a fan of raising taxes, especially when I do not see value in where the money is being spent. I do, however, feel that good Public Schools are an asset to our community and the investment in our children’s future is well worth it. Please consider voting “Yes” in November. You can reach out to me at any time with questions or visit bloomingtonschools.org/referendum for more information.
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