Referendum opposition less vocal, hard to measure

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2002

While there have been a great number of letters to the editor encouraging voting yes, yes on the Nov. 5 referendum ballot question, there have been only enough letters saying they do not support it to count on one hand. Is there much of an opposition to the levy?

&uot;The people I am around all day are saying they are going to vote no,&uot; said Larry Beener of Albert Lea. &uot;With the things that are going on in Albert Lea right now we are being bombarded with taxes and problems &045; the courthouse, the possibility of a half-percent sales tax, and a bad economy, these things add up.&uot;

Last year, many people were positive a referendum would pass, but after the votes were counted it was obvious that it wasn’t what the public wanted. Is there a silent majority this year, too? Will it play a large role in this election?

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Beener is one of those who is critical of a referendum. A grandparent of children in the district, he says does have interest in education .

&uot;I’m definitely not anti-education,&uot; he said. &uot;Schooling is critical, education is highly important. But I think they need to look at all the programs right now and decide what they can and can’t do with out at this point. If down the road the economy changes, we might be able to reinstate some of those things, but for now I think we need to make sacrifices.&uot;

Beener said that large class sizes aren’t going to necessarily ruin the education of a student, though it may put a strain on teachers. He said he thinks, though, that that may have to be a sacrifice.

On Thursday many households throughout the district received a letter that speaks out against the referendum entitled, &uot;Adults only, explicit material inside.&uot; The letter was sent by adult business owner Mal Prinzing, who criticized the district for &uot;threats&uot; such as bussing cuts and increased class size that he claims have been made in order to put pressure on voters to pass the referendum.

District officials and some members of TEAM have already challenged the letter, saying it is not factual and skews the truth. Prinzing did not return phone calls.

Randy Wanke, executive director of the Minnesota Education League, a metro-based lobbying group that advocates school accountability as well as the lowering of taxes, said there needs to be a good amount of information made available to the public if a district wants to pass a referendum.

In a packet his group sent out is a list of questions that he says any district should answer, whether it’s through meetings, pamphlets, or other means of communication.

&uot;Have they tried to educate the community? That’s the first step,&uot; Wanke said.

Through its education efforts, the majority of the questions have been addressed by the district as well as the referendum lobbying group, TEAM.

Wanke’s questions include &uot;What kind of property tax levies has the school district proposed? What efforts has the school district made to solicit input from the entire community on the proposed levy referendum? How is the district proposing that the additional money form the levy be spent?&uot;

Each of these has been addressed by the district in their materials. But some accountability questions that Wanke says need to be asked, haven’t been addressed.

Wanke’s group is an advocate of holding districts accountable through test scores and graduation rates. The district has not said if those types of measures will be used to determine success.

While the district has not directly addressed that issue, district officials have urged citizens to contact their office and TEAM has a telephone hotline for just that reason.

&uot;I’m not very familiar with the Albert Lea situation but I do know that in some places, quite honestly, the districts have done a good job of sharing information,&uot; Wanke said.

Wanke said that information availability is the most important aspect of the process but also said scrutiny over the district’s spending is important. Most important, he said, is that there is activity on the side of all of the community.

&uot;If your average voter is engaged with the process of holding the district accountable for results that’s going to result in a better education for your children,&uot; said Wanke.