Top 10, No. 4: School district needs second chance at referendum


Education funding will again be a topic for Red Wing voters to study in 2018.

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 by 53-47 margin, and 58 percent of voters rejected the additional $500 per student.

The district's current levy will expire in 2019.

At their Dec. 18 meeting, board members unanimously approved a resolution declaring the district's intent to conduct an operating levy referendum in November 2018.

"People want to know exactly what they are voting for," Superintendent Karsten Anderson said.

Since the failed vote, the board has regularly discussed feedback regarding the 2017 referendum campaign and what changes to make going forward. Anderson said the district will plan to start much earlier with communication and will reach out to more groups, formal and informal, about the 2018 referendum.

"We need to be clear how much money we're going to be short if we don't pass a referendum," Board member Arlen Diercks said.

A key takeaway from the referendum's failure, the board agreed on, is presenting a clearer outline of positive and negative consequences of the outcome. Several planning meetings are scheduled in January to continue operating levy discussions before more information is shared. Anderson said he hopes for open and honest communication with voters.

Red Wing results outside state norm

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

Red Wing was in the minority, being one of nine districts among the 50-plus districts 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," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. "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 presented a two-question ballot to voters in November, 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 will kick off an important new year with the annual meeting at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 8, 2018, in the Red Wing High School media center.