Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series that looks at where local residents are falling on the upcoming St. Michael-Albertville School District Operations Levy referendum, set for Tuesday, Nov. 8. The opinions expressed are those of the people interviewed for the story, and not of St. Michael Patch.
It’s not a difficult task in St. Michael-Albertville to find supporters of education, and they’ll be happy to tell you their reasoning for standing behind the school district in supporting the upcoming levy referendum.
Less than two weeks away, the new levy would bring in an additional $1.2 million annually into the district’s budget that they will use to maintain current opportunities, transportation levels and classroom settings. Supporters say that keeping STMA schools adequately funded will benefit the entire community; here is why they say they are voting "yes" on Nov. 8.
Kelly Tufto, a St. Michael Elementary third grade teacher and mother of two, said her daily life is affected by the outcome of this referendum, and she is voting "yes" in the best interest of both her students and her own children.
She cited class sizes as a top factor in her support of the levy. Superintendent Dr. Jim Behle has said that cuts to teaching positions would have to factor into the budget-balancing equation if the levy doesn’t pass, and Tufto said she has seen class sizes rise due to increasing enrollment alone, without the added difficulty of cutting teaching positions.
With 27 students in her class this year compared with 23 or 24 previously, Tufto said the extra bodies in the class make it increasingly difficult to meet all the needs of her learners in their differing ability levels. Tufto teaches a cluster of gifted students–there are two such clusters in each grade level–so she’s working to keep her high-achieving students challenged, along with the normal variation in the rest of her class.
“To have larger class sizes … will make learning more challenging,” she said. “It’s amazing what just three more kids adds to the classroom, and I didn’t realize what an effect it would have on my teaching and the learning that is going on. It really is a ripple effect.”
When it comes to technology, levy supporters say it’s important to maintain current infrastructure and replace computers after a reasonable number of years. As a maintenance levy, they stress that the additional funds would not be going toward providing all the latest and greatest gadgets, only to maintain the current options and keep systems running smoothly. Tufto said the computers they are working with at STME are now several years old, and significant time is taken to get the computers up and functioning properly in the mornings.
Levy supporter Joel Martin said he worries about the future of STMA’s broad range of extra-curricular activities if the levy doesn’t pass, saying fees will almost certainly increase and/or activities will be cut altogether. Though the activity may remain available through private club, he said the significantly higher costs of a club program would put a real stress on family budgets, especially those who have multiple children who want to be involved.
Compared to these possible spikes in participation fees, St. Michael supporter Chad Libby compared the additional levy taxes–$7.33 per month for a $200,000 property–as a much cheaper expenditure than little luxuries many residents spend money on without too much concern, such as a daily latte on the way to work.
At a time where many other factors area against school districts, supporters are hoping the community will stand in partnership with STMA’s schools. Resident and levy supporter Paul Ederer said the state funding formula works against the district, leading STMA to be in the bottom 5 percent for general education funding.
“The district ranks 331 out of 336 school districts in the state for its funding level,” he said. “Even if the Nov. 8 levy passes, the district’s rank will only move up to rank 319.”
Flat state funding for the past few years has also caused financial stress, since inflationary costs like heating bills and health insurance plans for employees keep rising while funding remains flat. And the state’s funding shifts to balance their own budgets have put stress on every district in the state, he added.
Ederer added the school district has always been responsible with spending. As a former school board member who served in the 1980s, he said the district has always maintained a balanced budget and a responsible reserve fund. Since the district has already cut $1.44 million from its budget in the past four years, he said the levy money is needed to ensure that the school board can continue its sound fiscal practices without taking too much from students to achieve it.
“It’s obvious that the purpose of the levy is just to maintain what the district is currently doing: maintaining a high level of educational opportunities for the young people in the district,” said Ederer. “This is an investment in our youth: education of young people is a legacy we all need to leave behind because that is the future of our country.”
The biggest point these supporters are pushing is that a strong, well-supported school district doesn’t just benefit the schools-it benefits the whole community.
“These students that you are supporting right now in our district will, in a few years, be in the workforce,” Tufto said. “Having them better prepared to be successful in our society is also going to benefit us.”
“The strength of your community has a lot to do with your schools, and that’s good for everybody: whether you own a business or own a home,” Martin added. “A good, sound school district is one of the most important things people look at when they look to buy a home or open a business. It’s a pretty small price to pay but a really good return on investment.”