Dear Voters of St. Michael and Albertville,
No matter your opinion, we Vote Yes committee members understand that many residents of St. Michael and Albertville are growing weary of the ongoing school district levy debate. However, we, along with many of you, also understand that if we don’t talk about it now and work toward its successful passage, it will be STMA’s kids who will feel the effects of a failed levy long after the final vote is tallied. Whether it’s a student walking to school on a cold morning because they’ve lost bus transportation, a student struggling to get their question answered in an overcrowded classroom, or a student sitting home after school because their favorite sport or club no longer exists, it’s the kids of this community who drive us to keep working for every critical yes vote on November 2.
Not a Spending Problem
Some Vote No enthusiasts have crafted false or misleading claims of school district financial mismanagement to justify their position that the community should let this levy fail. They claim the STMA school district has a spending problem, and they suggest the district could remedy their financial shortfall if only it engaged in prudent budgeting.
But for the STMA school district, Covid created the equivalent of what a catastrophic medical event would do to a family already on a tight budget. Imagine if insurance (or in this case, Covid relief funding) only covered 16 percent of the expenses incurred by this catastrophic medical event. If this happened to one of our neighbors, would we chastise them for failing to have the other 84 percent of the unforeseen expense on-hand, or would we offer to help?
The fact is, STMA funnels 80 percent of its budget directly to the classroom, on expenses such as teacher salaries, benefits, curriculum, and supplies. STMA spends $10,206 per pupil annually, compared with the state average of $13,054 and metro average of $13,634 per year. On administration, STMA spends $509 per pupil, compared with a state average of $1,065. Some increased costs that the school district must pay far exceed the rate of inflation, including employee healthcare, heating, and electric bills. This does not take into account attempts to keep staff salaries competitive to attract and retain a talented workforce. None of this equates to a spending problem. It’s a funding problem.
Teachers: the Heartbeat of our Schools
Day after day, it’s the teachers who engage students and inspire them to grow. When a teacher is a capable educator and skilled at classroom management while keeping the atmosphere cheerful and welcoming, children thrive. For years, STMA has worked diligently to attract and retain talented teachers despite the fact that low state funding causes it to pay less than most other school districts in our area. Though teachers could make up to $10,000-$12,000 more annually in neighboring communities, many stay in STMA because class sizes are historically on the low end of average and support from the community is typically plentiful. If the Nov. 2 levy fails, class sizes will balloon to even larger sizes next year, and morale will drop as staff brace for another round of budget cuts and staff reductions. What will our district’s talented educators do?
Teachers have one of the toughest jobs out there. They persevere through challenges because they love making connections with students and helping them grow and learn. In a classroom with 35+ elementary school students, and even more in higher grades, will teachers be able to make connections with students, individualize instruction, or truly help those struggling? Do we, as a community, want to maintain conditions that attract and retain educators who want to stay in STMA, get to know our families, our community, and really make a difference in the lives of our students? The results of this levy will chart the path forward.
The Cost of Being Property Poor
STMA is in an untenable position where its property-poor tax base means school funding falls more heavily on local residents than in most other communities. Schools for Equity in Education, which helps STMA lobby the state legislature for equal funding, illustrates this problem clearly with an example $1,919 per-pupil levy. In this scenario, the same levy amount would cost a $250,000 house in Hopkins $291 annually, $419 annually in Edina, $433 in Eden Prairie, $469 in Wayzata, $718 in Monticello, $733 in Elk River/Rogers, $746 in Buffalo, and $1,130 in STMA.
It goes without saying that this is not a fair or equitable way to fund schools. This system rewards districts who have plentiful commercial/industrial businesses by giving them the ability to rake in huge funding increases with a low impact on individual homeowners. High levels of growth cushioned STMA from this unfair formula to some extent in the past, but the double whammy of stagnating student growth and insufficient pandemic relief funding has put STMA in a truly challenging position.
The STMA Vote Yes for Kids Committee kindly asks you to vote yes. We know it’s not a small ask, requiring an act of sacrificial giving for many. But we also know how critical its passage will be for the children of our community, and for the staff who pour their hearts into their jobs and make our district among the very top in the state. Let’s not give up our fight for more equitable funding at the state level, but today, let’s focus on what we can control to keep our community’s schools strong. Each dollar of this proposed levy goes directly to the betterment of our own community, and nowhere else. Please, cast your vote for strong schools for STMA this Nov. 2. Thank you so much for your support.
-STMA Vote Yes for Kids 2021 Levy Committee
Dear Voters of St. Michael and Albertville,