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Voters Give More Money to Schools
By Tim Pugmire
November 8, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Campaign 2000
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Saint Paul public schools will gain an additional $105 million over the next five years. Voters in the state's second-largest school district approved their first-ever excess tax levy referendum by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. In Minneapolis, voters overwhelmingly renewed a school district levy for another 10 years.

Saint Paul School Supt. Pat Harvey awaits results of the St. Paul school referendum.
(MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
SAINT PAUL SCHOOL DISTRICT VOTERS voters twice rejected excess levy measures in 1990 and 1992. School board members decided to try again this year, saying the money is needed to provide students extra learning opportunities and more classroom computer technology.

School Board Chairwoman Becky Montgomery says the referendum theme of "time and technology" made sense to voters.

"They realize our kids need the additional learning time, that they need access to more and better technology, and they recognize that our children need to be better prepared upon graduation. And targeting on more learning time and better technology was the route to go," Montgomery said.

The additional $21 million a year in revenue will also complement the recent reforms instituted by Supt. Pat Harvey. In the last year and a half, she's ended social promotion, increased homework requirements and placed underperforming schools on academic probation. Harvey says voters will be able to see the results of their investment in the coming years.

"We've made some promises," Harvey said. "We've made some promises that more resources will bring about greater achievement, that time and technology will pay off for our kids, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

District officials say 75 percent of the new revenue will go directly to schools, with building site councils deciding how best to spend it.

The only school board member to oppose the referendum says he still has concerns that the money will have a minimal impact on student achievement. Tom Conlon says the social problems affecting students must still be addressed. But Conlon says he accepts the will of the people and hopes he's proven wrong.

"Hopefully now as we go forward, I think one thing that united all of us is that we wanted the best for the kids, and we just had different approaches on how to get there. Now, I think we have to work together and make it happen," Conlon said.

In Minneapolis, voters renewed an excess levy that has already generated an extra $40 million a year for the past 10 years. The vote was 73 percent in favor to 27 percent opposed.

The Minneapolis school district first won voter approval for its levy in 1990. Voters renewed the levy in 1996. The money goes almost exclusively to hiring enough teachers to keep class sizes small.

School Board Chairwoman Judy Farmer says the focus on small class sizes has helped win public support.

"It works," she said. "It really helps student achievement. A lot of parents and a lot of teachers really feel they can get to know individual students much, much better when there are fewer in a classroom."

The Minneapolis School Board adjusted this year's ballot question for inflation. The renewed levy will generate $42 million a year, beginning in 2002, and $52 million by 2010. The state would cover about $8 million, with city property taxpayers picking up the rest.

Minneapolis voters also approved a referendum increasing taxes to pay for city library improvements. The margin was 67 percent to 33 percent.

Tim Pugmire covers education issues for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him via e-mail at