Editorial: Levy crucial to future of city

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2002

So much has changed in the last year.

When last year’s school levy referendum failed, there was little awareness of public dissent beforehand. The impact of passage or failure was not easy to pin down, as the school wasn’t able to provide details. In the end, voters went out and said &uot;no&uot; to a tax increase. Some of them admitted they didn’t realize the impact at the time.

The impact can no longer be denied. The school axed more than $1 million worth of teachers, programs and services after last year’s referendum failed. And in its attempt to put a new referendum on the ballot, the Albert Lea district has addressed many of the concerns voters expressed last time. The term of the levy is only half as long. Voters can choose different levels of funding. And they’ve been given much more information about what they’re voting on. If question one passes, the school avoids further cuts and keeps this year’s situation intact. If question two passes as well, much of last year’s cuts can be restored. If both fail, we’re looking at more cuts, and possibly an elementary school closing.

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Going into this referendum, it’s easy to figure the community is more informed. They have simply had access to more information than last time, and the efforts of the TEAM committee have gone above and beyond expectations.

Knowing that, we are hopeful the community will approve both questions on the referendum. The school district and the citizen committee have made their case effectively. Their request deserves to be approved.

The benefactors will be students. At every level, they have been affected in some way by the cuts we’re seeing this year. They are walking to school instead of taking buses, sitting through study halls instead of classes, dealing with larger class sizes, and finding some electives and extracurricular activities, which so enrich the educational experience, are no longer available.

If the first question is passed, these conditions will not improve, but at least they won’t fall any farther backward. If nothing else, approval of the first question is a necessity.

If the second question passes, Albert Lea schools can go back to the level of last year in many areas. That’s the preferable outcome.

In a competitive environment &045; both for the students whose futures are being shaped, and for the city of Albert Lea, which is striving for progress &045; a strong public-education system is crucial. We know a good education is the most important factor in determining future success. And we have heard much about how a good school system can affect economic development; the inquiry by Ford Motor Company makes it an immediate issue.

Criticisms of the way the school spends its money are inevitable, but impartial research suggests much of it is unfounded. The percentage of the district’s budget spent on administration, for instance, is among the lowest you’ll find. The district’s overall budget is smaller than other schools of comparable size. And much has already been done to make the school district work more efficiently, like combining positions and putting heavier workloads on the existing administrators and teaching staff.

The facts show a school district fresh off serious cuts, and ready to make another round if this referendum fails. They show a district that has earnestly tried to make good us of all the funding it gets. And they show a city in need of a morale boost. Momentum toward positive change has been building, and a defeat for this referendum would take a lot of the wind out of those sails.