By Anne Holzman
St. Paul voters will cast ballots on a levy referendum, which if approved would raise an additional $18.6 million annually for the city’s public schools to supplement state revenue assistance that a school board member said hasn’t kept pace with inflation.
The district’s ballot question seeks to revoke its existing operating levy of $704.52 per pupil and replace it with a new authorization of $1,179.52 per pupil. Ballots left blank on this question will not count toward the total votes cast.
The reason some people oppose the measure is clear: The replacement levy would add about 4 percent to homeowners’ property taxes and may cause landlords to raise rents as well. The amount would increase with inflation over its 10-year span. Since the city and county have also announced levy increases (with the school district accounting for about a third of each taxpayer’s bill), the expected combined impact is an increase of about 12 percent, starting with 2019 property-tax bills.
We asked school board treasurer Jon Schumacher, who lives in St. Anthony Park, to explain what the levy will pay for and to make the case to his neighbors for a “Yes” vote.
Schumacher said the district is in a tough financial position because of declining funding by the state in recent years.
“If per-pupil funding for SPPS [Saint Paul Public Schools] had simply kept up with inflation, we would have an additional $21 million per year,” he said. “Until that changes, this is the only remedy provided to schools to bridge the gap.
“Every year our costs increase by 3.5 percent, but the state only provides between a 1 and 2 percent per-pupil increase.”
To critics who insist the district seek more efficient alternatives, Schumacher said they are out of options.
“We have done our best to patch together successful programs through dedicated teachers, staff and parent support,” he said. “Because of that, we still have great schools and academic opportunities. But this is not sustainable. We are losing staff and students due to continued budget cuts, — $50 million over the past three years.”
The district recently hired a new superintendent, Joe Gothard, and has drafted a new strategic plan under his leadership, Schumacher noted. However, to fully implement “that plan depends on this referendum” passing, he said.
“We have tremendous students filled with hope and passion,” Schumacher said. “They are our future, locally and globally.
“They are brilliant, creative, resilient and committed to making this a better world,” he noted. “We cannot waste their talent or their lives,” he said, “the cost is too high.”
“If they succeed, we succeed.”
–Anne Holzman is a freelance writer and former resident of St. Anthony Park, now living in Bloomington.