Saturday, April 6, 2013

Referendum Votes Reflect Political Philosophy of Voters, Not Stewardship

Last Thursday, I testified on behalf of Representative Newton's levy extension bill.  The bill would restore Minnesota law to its former provisions before 1994, allowing school boards to extend operating levies by a vote of the school board.  

 During the committee discussion, an opponent of the bill suggested that school referendum votes serve the purpose of publicly verifying the stewardship of the school leadership.     I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest that, in fact, this is provably incorrect.  

In the following table I’ve listed some referendum votes:

District - per p
Mpls-   $2000
Passed                                71.0%                         
Osseo      $285
Failed 33,792 - 33,908         49.9%
St. Paul   $821
Passed  78,692 – 49,303     61.5%
St. Cloud $555
Passed  24,295 - 22,176      52%

I suggest that these votes are not reflective at all of which districts are the best stewards of money, nor which districts are doing the best educationally, but rather are reflective of the readiness of their citizens to support public education, regardless of any of those factors.   For example, the Osseo school district has been recognized as exhibiting stellar results in attacking the achievement gap, yet that district could not renew a small referendum. The loss of that referendum threatens to destroy the very programs that support these positive results. 

In many states, school boards are called trustees.  We school board members are, in fact, trustees.   It is our job to find efficiencies, to act as wise stewards of public funds, to hold our employees accountable.    The school board members that I know take this job very seriously.   The whole idea of representative democracy is that the public votes for stewards and gives them the power and authority to do their job.    One of the reasons that Minnesota’s school finance system is fundamentally broken  is that it gives board members the responsibility, but not the power, to do our job.  

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