November 7th, 2008 by Mike Smart
“I can’t believe it passed!” If I’ve heard this comment once, I’ve heard it a dozen times this week from teachers at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School, where I teach in the mornings. This Tuesday, while most districts saw requests for increased funding get denied, residents in the Robbinsdale school district approved not one, but two school levy referendums to increase funding for schools in the district. The first referendum on the ballot will provide over $7.6 million dollars in critically needed funding for school programs. The second will provide an additional $1.8 million. The funding will allow the district to rehire teachers who lost their jobs last year, restore some of the after-school programs that were eliminated last year, and reduce class sizes from their overflowing levels.
To be honest, I was skeptical leading up to the vote. It was a general election year, meaning that voter turnout would be high. Conventional wisdom says it’s much harder to pass a referendum in such years, as the average voter is reluctant to vote to raise their own taxes. On top of this, it’s easy to imagine how worried voters are about their finances given the economic turmoil of the past two months, with its plummeting stock market, falling house values, and threatening recession. And if that isn’t enough, the district is home to a small yet underhanded “Say No!” movement. Last year this group hired a consultant whose goal is to eliminate public schooling in the United States, they peppered the district with a mailing that included egregiously false information on the day before the 2007 vote, and they even sued the state of Minnesota over its statute that bans factual distortions relating to school referendums. So yes, I had my doubts that passing even one of the referendum questions would be possible.
But as the K-Mart posters of my youth used to say: “People who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” An active group of concerned residents of School District 281 refused to give in to the impossible. Continue Reading »