Editorial: Remember who will ultimately be affected by upcoming vote

Published 8:50 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

A critical vote is taking place Tuesday for the Albert Lea school district.

The district is asking residents to renew its operating levy, which is set to expire at the end of this year. The referendum generates about $2 million each year for operations within the district — or specifically $580.99 per pupil.

While some have voiced loud and clear that they intend to vote against this request, we ask that all reconsider, as this vote has the potential of drastically impacting our children in the community.

The district this year has already cut about $846,000 from its budget, including the reduction of 11 licensed staff and one non-licensed staff member. Last year, it cut the budget by almost $765,000, including eliminating four full-time special education lead teachers, three full-time paraprofessionals, one high school assistant principal, two full-time high school teachers and one full-time elementary section. Other cuts have included eliminating contracted business office support, eliminating department chairs, eliminating the high school parking lot attendant, reducing media centers supply budgets and replacing the Southwest assistant principal with a dean.

Though the district was able to take advantage of retirements, resignations and non-renewals in its reductions in personnel, that does not mean the cuts have gone unnoticed.

If the referendum does not pass, these cuts will only deepen, and the district will have to make an additional $2 million in cuts. These would be cuts that would continue forward year after year until the levy is passed.

District administration have identified several things that might be at risk. They have talked about reinstating activity participation fees and student admission fees — right now the district allows families to only worry about paying what they can afford for their student to participate in a sport or activity and the district allows students to attend activities for free. The district has talked about reinstating high school parking fees, canceling work on computer networks and planned replacement of technology, eliminating concurrent enrollment tuition and AP exams. It could also cut a gifted/talented coordinator, five resource specialists, a middle school counselor, a high school/ALC social worker, a director/coordinator, dean, administrator and 16 full-time teachers.

The elimination of the teachers alone would have a dramatic ripple effect on class sizes, and taking away the resource specialists, counselor and social worker could take away the very support our students need after an emotionally-taxing year with COVID-19.

We think it’s also important to remember that renewing this referendum will not increase people’s taxes as long as your property values stay the same; in fact, they might decrease some because the district is seeing a slight decline in enrollment.

We recognize that many are frustrated with rising taxes in the community, and compounded with rising property values, at times it may seem that taxes are out of control. However, we do not think it is fair to hold that against this issue, as the district is only asking for a renewal of what was already in place — not more.

While we also acknowledge that there are some in our community who are upset with some members of the school board or its superintendent because of things like COVID-19 quarantine policies, mask mandates or recent behaviors at school board meetings, we hope people can recognize that the referendum and these recent disagreements are separate issues.

Voting against a renewal of this referendum is not going to solve any of the problems people are upset with — it is only going to make things worse.

At the end of the day, it will hurt dozens of teachers in our community, the quality of education in our district and most importantly, our children.