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Referendum fails; district eyes 2018 vote

School officials got the message. They are going back to the classroom in hopes of educating the public so a 2018 referendum passes.

The two-part referendum the Red Wing School District proposed to the community on Tuesday, Nov. 7, failed.

The district asked voters to replace the current operating levy of $811.64 per student with a levy of $1,235.64 per student. The ballot's second question sought an additional $500 per student. Question 1 failed with 53 percent to 47 percent, and 58 percent of voters rejected the additional $500 per student.

"Although we are disappointed with the results, we have appreciated community discussions over the last several months," Superintendent Karsten Anderson said.

The district will be trying for another operating levy referendum in 2018. The district's current levy will expire in 2019.

"We need to do a better job engaging with the community earlier in the process," Anderson said, regarding the 2018 vote. "We will identify more specific information on what could be reduced and what could be added if additional money is garnered."

Results outside the state norm

Voters across Minnesota supported their local districts through levies and referendums on Election Day, raising about $1 billion to sustain and expand their public schools, Education Minnesota reported.

"The results show individual Minnesotans are willing to spend a little more to give the children in their communities a great start, with well-trained, professional educators and modern buildings," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. "Tuesday was a good day for the children in those communities."

Red Wing was in the minority, being one of nine districts among the 50-plus districts at the polls Tuesday with a failing operating referendum vote.

"Minnesota schools rely on operating levies to pay for the basics because state funding of public education hasn't kept up with inflation for many years," Specht said. "When voters reject levies for operations or building renovations, it widens the gap between the haves and have nots. That's a bad situation for everyone."

Area districts

The Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District also presented a two-question ballot to voters, with both questions passing. More than 75 percent of Z-M voters favored renewing their expiring operating referendum of $936.37 per pupil and 67 percent supported an additional $313.63 per pupil.

Voters in Hastings approved a $49.5 million bond for renovations and safety improvements. Lake City's request for a $12 million bond for renovation and an addition to Bluff View Elementary passed by a 134-vote margin.

Red Wing School Board Chair Janie Farrar said beyond the obvious disappointment, the district is looking forward to more involvement from the community as the next steps are formulated.

"In the end, this will be better for our school district, as more people will get detailed information and will be part of the process. The future funding can have a greater link and impact with our strategic plan," Farrar said.

Anderson said the district is working on a rough sketch of plans moving forward, with the aim to begin implementing community outreach in January.

"We will meet with the community to discuss how our district could look depending on the outcome in 2018."