Bill Could Allow School Boards to Renew Expiring Operating Levies
A bill in the legislature could give more power to school boards to renew an existing operating levy. The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL Golden Valley) says it would give the same power and be the same process that cities and counties renew their expiring levies.
A Lost Renewal in 2007
The Robbinsdale School Board faced some very tough choices in the fall of 2007. Voters did not approve the renewal of an existing operating levy, so the district needed to cut millions of dollars out of the budget. The board considered closing Northport Elementary School, but after a robust campaigning effort, the board voted to keep it open.
Board members cautioned against too much joy after the vote, because cuts would still have to be made. Luckily, voters approved an operating levy in 2008, which stopped further cuts.
But the pain of the failed 2007 levy still resonates.
“It sent shock waves through the district,” says John Vento, who was a parent in the district then.
Now he’s the chair of the School Board. Vento testified in support of a new bill that would give school boards the same authority as cities and counties to renew existing operating levies.
“The laser focus of this bill is it is only a renewal of operating levies,” explains Vento. “It is a levy that voters have already approved. Then, by simple majority of their elected officials and after holding a public hearing, they would be able to renew it.”
Vento also says this process would avoid expensive levy campaigns as well as the uncertainty of what to cut if a renewal fails.
A New Bill
Rep. Mike Freiberg is the author of HF 116, which would authorize school districts to renew expiring referendums with the action of a school board.
“I feel like it jeopardizes the education of the students to put them at the mercy of a vote especially when there’s no tax increase involved,” said Freiberg. “It enables them and allows them to renew an operating referendum by vote of the school board. [The School Board members] are elected officials and that’s what we entrust them to do.”
And what if you don’t like the action of the school board in approving the renewal? Freiberg says voters can speak out in the required public hearing and then do what they’d do if they didn’t like a city council or county vote.
“If residents don’t like the vote, they can vote out the school board,” said Freiberg.
Sen. Ann Rest (DFL New Hope) has authored the companion bill in the senate.