STMA Levy: What’s the Lesson?
It seems the statements regarding the upcoming school levy, at least from the “vote no” camp contain one or more of the following sentiments: I think the state system for funding schools is unfair, I’m still
upset with the results of the 2017 facilities bond referendum, I don’t like Governor Walz, I don’t like open enrollment, I pay too much in taxes already, and so forth.
Perhaps those who are determined to vote “no” think that a defeated levy will teach someone a lesson. But the lesson will not be learned by the state legislature which determines school funding since STMA is simply one of 330 districts, and we’re not as important to them as you might think. The lesson will not be learned by those who voted in favor of the 2017 bond referendum as those facilities are already up and being used. The lesson will not be learned by Governor Walz as he has no personal stake in what happens at STMA. The lesson will not be learned by those who open-enroll kids into STMA as they don’t get to vote on this levy. It is true that taxes will not go up if the levy fails, but the lesson taught there is that people would rather see more teachers let go, class sizes go up even higher, and youth programs eliminated. No one will be punished by a defeated levy other than the kids. Sacrificing to educate our kids has never been an easy decision.
In the 1950s and early 1960s there was a major effort by the state to consolidate the many small school districts that once existed. Neither St. Michael nor Albertville had full K-12 programs as it was not required by law, but each community had both public and parochial elementary schools, and there was a parochial (Catholic) high school in St. Michael. If leaders in St. Paul would have had their way, the small public schools that then existed would have all been closed, and the kids of St. Michael and Albertville, both those in town and in the country, would have been divided up between Buffalo, Monticello, and Elk River; along with the school taxes generated by the property owners from St. Michael and Albertville.
The people of St. Michael and Albertville, despite old rivalries, joined forces to fight consolidation with other districts and merged their two separate school boards to create STMA in 1964. The communities then voted to build a school for elementary and junior high students to meet the minimum state requirement. This building, completed in 1967, is now St. Michael Elementary. But the state legislature, seemingly perturbed by our stubborn refusal to consolidate with larger schools, upped the stakes again and required any district wishing to remain independent to have a full K-12 program. In order for STMA to meet the new law, the Catholic high school would have to close as there was no feasible way to support both parochial and public high schools. Even the St. Michael priest, Msgr. Henry Geisenkoetter, supported this move as he knew that St. Michael and Albertville would lose their identities, as well as their local tax dollars, if the public school district was carved up. Choosing to have a full K-12 program then led to another new school building along with other expansions and renovations to provide space for things like music and art. All of this initial building happened within a span of less than ten years. Sacrifice.
I tell those who seemed surprised to hear of our financial difficulties that STMA is a gilded district. We look rich on the outside with nice facilities that the community built for the kids, but scratch the surface, and you find a system that operates very frugally. We’ve become an admired school district because of the hard work of the students, parents, and staff who created the tradition of excellence of which we should be very proud. But that excellence is also built on the sacrifice of those who said that what we invest in our kids’ futures will be our legacy. Sacrifice always works that way. The levy vote in November is not about buildings or sports facilities. It’s about keeping the tradition of academic excellence moving forward and honoring the sacrifice of those who came before us. That’s the lesson.
St. Michael resident, teacher, union president, and local historian