Guest column: Why an excess levy for Albert Lea?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

This fall, as voters in the Albert Lea School district face an important decision about raising taxes, it’s only fair to ask a few questions: Why do our schools need an excess levy? The State of Minnesota spends billions on public education each year, so why can’t the district manage with the money it already gets from the state? Why do they need more?

Members of TEAM (Together Education Achieves More) think these questions need to be answered. But as with nearly every issue involving public education in Minnesota, the answers are complicated by state funding formulas and tax policies. Yes, the state is now almost totally responsible for basic school funding, but the state doesn’t distribute that aid equally. Some districts get more, based on where they are and how many poor students they have. It should be no surprise to any of us that Greater Minnesota gets the least.

While the changes in school funding over the past two years did not lead to any cuts in state aid, they also meant that Albert Lea’s schools saw no extra funding, not even enough to offset inflation. The changes also mean that school boards have to ask voters directly for any dollars above and beyond basic state aid levels.

Email newsletter signup

The end result is that Albert Lea gets enough from the state to pay for basic education, but little else. And before you say anything about that being &uot;good enough&uot; for our students, do you know what that would mean for Albert Lea? Unless other funding is made available, public education here will have to be pared down to the bare minimum needed to meet state requirements.

And while that may seem like a good idea to some, the bare minimum here would probably mean closing another elementary school, very large class sizes throughout the district, hardly any choice in courses for students, and extracurricular activities only for those families with enough money to pay for them out of their own pockets.

Those kinds of changes would not give us public schools of which a community could be proud. It wouldn’t be fair to children or families. It would not be the kind of school system that would impress families thinking about moving here, returning here or staying here.

This district has gone through 11 straight years of budget cuts, more than one involving a million dollars or more. And these cuts were made even in years when the legislature approved increases in state funding for education. &uot;Extras&uot; have been eliminated, but cuts have also been made to core areas of the curriculum (math, English, science, and social studies), and other programs like foreign language study, technology classes, physical education and family and consumer science.

The members of TEAM think that it’s time to reverse that trend and start finding ways to keep public education in this community strong and healthy, with class sizes that provide better learning for younger students, with courses where students learn something instead of more study halls, and a variety of activities that allow students to pursue things that interest them and keep them involved.

And that will only happen if voters approve the excess levy requests that will be on the ballot this Nov. 5.

This article was written with contributions from David Behling, Dennis Dieser, Dan Dorman and Mike Moore. For more information about TEAM or the excess levy contact Dennis Dieser (373-7451), Tom Ehrhardt (377-2409), Becky Johnson (377-3812) or Terri Wichmann (373-3530).