Mounds View School Board

May 2002: Levy decision is a matter of timing.

On a regular basis, the Board publishes a column in the local newspapers on a topic of timely interest. Select from the columns below.

Considering the severe budget constraints facing Mounds View Public Schools, it's probably no surprise that the School Board recently decided to pursue a levy referendum. What may be surprising to some is our decision to wait until fall 2003, instead of pursuing the levy this November. We'd like to share some details that led to our decision.

Reductions modify school programs
Over the past seven years, our schools have undergone a series of changes in response to severe budget constraints. These changes have resulted in a limited range of program offerings that prevent the District from offering our students the same educational opportunities that once made us leaders in the state:

  • Middle school core class sizes have increased from 25 to 32.
  • High school class sizes have gone from 30 to 36.
  • Elementary class sizes have remained constant, but are now threatened.
  • High school Advanced Placement class offerings have been reduced.
  • Participation fees for co-curricular programs have increased by $75-$355 per student.
  • Middle school allied class sizes have increased from 25 to 40+.
  • Middle school program reduced from 8-period day to 6-period day.
  • Middle school band/orchestra/choir offered now only every other day.
  • Middle school co-curricular programs cut.
  • High school vocational and career courses cut.
  • Middle school and elementary school world language programs eliminated at some schools.

    Over the last ten years we have reduced our expenses by over $10 million to balance expenses with revenue. These adjustments took the following form:

  • 35% of the budget adjustments were in classroom teachers.
  • 10% of the budget adjustments were in transportation costs (2-tier to 4-tier system)
  • 25% adjustment in other instructional support services
  • 20% adjustment in administrative and support staff services
  • 10% adjustment in non-staff areas (supplies, maintenance, utilities, consulting, etc.)

    In order to adopt a balanced budget for 2002-2003, we have proposed adjustments totaling $4.6 million affecting our transportation, building support systems, central support services, curriculum research and development and co-curricular programs. These adjustments and the budget will be finalized and approved at the second School Board meeting in June. By the year 2004, anticipated minimal increases in revenues and rising expenses now indicate the need for further cuts ranging from $4-$9 million.

    Our vision
    Our vision is to stop the erosion of programming which will assure that Mounds View Public Schools remains in a position of leadership and assures that the District provides a truly well-rounded education for our students. However, under current trends, substantial additional funding will be required simply to maintain the current, limited program offerings before we can even begin to meaningfully rebuild areas that have been reduced or eliminated.

    Although we recognize our schools have a clear and immediate need for additional funding, we also realize a successful levy requires comprehensive community support. After several months of reviewing a levy decision with the community, we have concluded that securing community support this year – amid some substantial political obstacles – could present significant challenges that would likely threaten the success of a levy.

    Challenges this fall
    The following realities contributed to our decision to pursue a levy 18 months from now:
  • There will be a full slate of elective offices on the ballot this November – including governor, state senators and representatives, as well as a competitive race for US senator. Due to this, it will be exceedingly difficult to capture voters' attention because the media will be deluged with a variety of political messages competing for attention.
  • Regardless of when the levy election is held, we cannot win with parent support alone. For success, we need our community members to understand the importance of this effort, which will require an aggressive and sustained campaign effort – led, financed and worked by a massive and diverse group of community volunteers. Assembling such a group requires an extended period of time.
  • Experts have indicated that districts face greater long-term risks if successive levies fail. The consequences of a possible second failed levy effort could impair the credibility and financial health of the District for years to come.

    So what are our next steps? In the coming months, the School Board will establish a long-range plan for community dialogue and education while the District will begin to assemble a supportive team of community volunteers. Much work lies ahead, but a well-planned effort is essential to success.

    We know our decision to delay this pursuit will disappoint some. The easy decision would be to approve a levy referendum for this November, because we need the money now in order to avoid further program adjustments necessary for balancing the budget. However, we believe the right thing to do for the District is to make sure that the citizens are fully committed and ready to support the effort. We must succeed in a levy for our students – the future of education in our district is at stake.

    Wendy Benson
    Barb Bollum
    Lori Grivna
    Mark Kimball
    Cathy Moynihan
    Marre Jo Sager
    David Stimpson

    To read other Board columns, go here.

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