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Editorial: School votes offer lessons

Red Wing public schools started the second quarter last week — the same week Goodhue County Education District counterparts Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Kenyon-Wanamingo school districts held successful levy referendums.

The Z-M and K-W schools thoroughly explained to constituents the issues facing their respective districts and detailed the pros and cons. Communication and experience were the keys.

After a failed 2012 referendum and the resulting $311,000 in budget cuts plus higher activity fees, Z-M voters understood the need for an additional $350 per pupil. They passed the referendum 2:1.

K-W residents extended an expiring referendum of roughly $680 to preserve the education students receive now; voters clearly saw the value, voting 3:1 in favor.

Some people argue that the referendums passed because the votes occurred in an odd-numbered year; there were not statewide and federal elections drawing big crowds to the polls. That’s probably part of it, given that 50 of the 57 Minnesota school districts that sought additional school aid this Election Day got it. Another 23 of 26 districts that had building maintenance or other major improvements on the ballot also found success.

But we also argue that, in the case of Z-M and K-W, the overwhelming passage tells a story of school boards that are in line with their communities.

Red Wing School District is preparing to place a referendum — potentially for building construction, building repairs and perhaps more — before voters in 2014. Referendum questions for building issues and athletic facility upgrades failed in 2012. But like Z-M and Z-M voters this fall, Red Wing residents approved extending per pupil funding.

Across the river, Ellsworth School District also is contemplating a 2014 school funding vote.

Red Wing and Ellsworth citizens and school staff would do well to evaluate the local successes at the ballot box. What has changed since 2012? What needs to be done? What doesn’t? What does the public want?

When citizens understand, they are more likely to buy-in. When a district communicates well, it is more likely to win the popular vote.