Dire warnings about budget cuts if Anoka-Hennepin levy failsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials in Minnesota's largest school district say they may have to close as many as nine schools if voters don't approve a property tax increase in November.
The Anoka-Hennepin school district is asking voters to renew a levy that's about to expire, and to approve new levies to fund programs that were cut in recent years. District officials held the first of two public meetings Thursday night, to ask voters what they should cut if the ballot questions fail.
Champlin, Minn. — At the state's largest high school, Champlin Park, supporters of renewing the Anoka-Hennepin levy handed out bright yellow "Vote Yes" stickers.
Inside the high school's auditorium, about 100 people listened as district officials outlined a handful of possible scenerios.
If voters renew a levy that passed in 2002, the district will essentially keep doing what it's doing.
If they approve three other ballot questions, the district will restore funding for transportation and extracurricular activities that was cut in recent years, and borrow money for school technology.
If voters reject all four questions, the school board will cut $42 million to balance the district's budget. That's about 20 percent of the portion of the budget that the school board controls - the rest funds state and federal mandates.
Superintendent Roger Giroux said to cut $42 million, the board could close up to six elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. That's three more schools than the district threatened to close in a letter to parents earlier this month.
Giroux said some people don't believe the district would actually close schools.
"They say, 'That isn't going to happen - you're crying wolf.' No." said Giroux. "You took $42 million out of the mix of what we need to operate next year. That's what's going to happen, or some such combinations thereof."
Giroux says the district would also lay off more than 500 teachers, eliminate another 300 positions, and cut programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said they hope it doesn't come to that.
"If there are going to be cuts, I'm scared to death. Because I do have kids still in the district," said Ed Grivna of Brooklyn Park.
Grivna said if class sizes dramatically increase, he'd consider sending his children to private schools.
"I have to have my children educated to the point where they can compete in a world economy, not in just a local economy," he said.
Grivna said if the district does make cuts, the school board should eliminate funding for extracurricular activities before cutting funding for the classroom.
But others at the meeting said the district should find cost efficiencies, and shouldn't ask voters for more money. If all four questions on the November ballot are approved, property taxes on a $250,000 home would go up by about $330 a year.
Lea Leonard of Anoka questioned why the district needs to raise her property taxes. Leonard graduated from Anoka High School eight years ago, and thinks a tax increase is unnecessary.
"I figured I received a pretty decent education, yet you guys have millions of more dollars and you're panicking about class size," said Leonard. "My graduating high school class size was about 900 people, average class size was about 40 people. I did just fine, I graduated with an "A" average. I don't think class size is as big a deal, and a real reason to panic, as many people would like you to think."
School board chair Mike Sullivan says it's too soon to say whether Leonard's views are widespread among taxpayers.
"Some e-mails say, 'Because I have a problem with...' - pick it off the list - 'I'm not going to vote for the levy,'" said Sullivan. "And we've had probably an equal number of e-mails from people saying, 'This is really a problem, I understand the problem, I'm going to support the levy.' But this early in the process it's difficult to even hazard a guess."
Anoka-Hennepin has plenty of company this fall. It's one of 97 districts that will ask voters to approve operative levy referendums in November. That's more than one out of every four districts in the state.
- Morning Edition, 09/14/2007, 7:20 a.m.