Editorial: District made convincing case for levy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 3, 2001

On Tuesday, residents of the Albert Lea School District will be asked to vote on a school levy referendum, but that’s not really all they will be voting on.

Saturday, November 03, 2001

On Tuesday, residents of the Albert Lea School District will be asked to vote on a school levy referendum, but that’s not really all they will be voting on.

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They will be voting on whether students will have strong extra-curricular offerings. These kinds of programs – band, speech, sports – are not mere distractions; they build real-life skills, enrich the educational experience, prepare them for college and keep them busy with positive activities.

They will be voting on class sizes: Will they get bigger or will they stay the same? Anybody who knows a teacher can ask them, and they’ll say a small classroom is much more conducive to learning than a large one.

They will be voting on part of Albert Lea’s attractiveness to people who may wish to settle down here. A strong educational system is crucial to marketing this area to future residents and businesses. They will be more likely to consider Albert Lea if we are a community that supports its schools, rather than allowing them to wither.

Voters will indeed be casting ballots on an important part of the area’s future. Our children are a key to that future, and giving them the best schooling we can prepares them to someday lead this community.

Here is what this referendum is not: It is not a vote on whether the new high school was a good idea. It is not a vote on whether the old high school is being handled properly. It is not a vote on whether teachers get paid too much. These are policy issues that are governed by an elected school board, and the proper way to respond to them is through that democratic channel.

While some don’t agree, we feel the district’s leaders have done their part. The fact is that Albert Lea has given its teachers the lowest salary settlements over the last three biennia than any other similarly sized school in the area. The school has cut its budget, as has been necessary because of declining enrollment. They have not come to the voters to ask for operating money for several years, and the fact that they are doing it now indicates that they really need it. The district appears to have done as good a job as can be expected at keeping costs down.

But thanks to state funding that has been called inadequate, along with enrollment drops that siphon money from the budget, the school has reached an impasse. If the budget cuts don’t stop here, the knife will start piercing deeper. The quality of education will suffer.

If the referendum is approved, the state will reward Albert Lea’s willingness to support its school. The state will pay for 53 percent of the estimated $1.7 million levy each year. And while the rest will come from local taxes, taxpayers can take solace in the fact that property-tax reform likely means their school taxes will still go down if the referendum passes. This in itself is not a justification for the referendum, but the Albert Lea district has made a convincing case that it needs this money, and property-tax reform means this is a good time for it.

For all these reasons, the referendum deserves to pass on Nov. 6.