Brooklyn Center OKs levy after eight previous rejectionsby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Brooklyn Center, Minn. — The Brooklyn Center school district won't see a $600,000 budget cut next year. Voters there approved a property tax levy on Tuesday, after voting down previous levy proposals eight times in row.
The 513-196 vote approves a $337-a-student levy that was set to expire at the end of the year. The vote was simply to renew it, not raise additional revenues as in the past, and Superintendent Keith Lester hypothesized that's probably the reason voters said "yes" this time.
Situated just 10 miles north of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center has a 20 percent poverty rate -- close to twice the statewide average. It also has one of the highest foreclosure rates in Hennepin County.
"With people losing their jobs and losing their homes and struggling to put food on the table, I think it's really hard to ask them for more money," resident Paula Miller said. Miller, herself, voted in favor of the levy several times in recent years.
There were also demographic challenges. Brooklyn Center is racially diverse. More than three quarters of its students are from minority groups. But the voting age population is majority white. And less than a quarter of the voting age population has kids in school. That means the school and community can feel disconnected, said Phil Cohen, who was on the school board when Brooklyn Center built its high school in 1961. In those days, passing a levy was never a problem, he said, and there was a strong connection between the community and the school.
"Evidence is: When we used to have football games here, the stands were packed. Everybody was supportive of the basketball, the hockey. Everybody would turn out," he said. "And to me, we don't have that total community support we had."
Cohen is delighted the referendum passed. But it still leaves Brooklyn Center with the smallest per-pupil levy of any district in the seven-county metro area.
But in spite of that, Lester said the district has had a lot of success.
"We're doing some great things with pre-k through grade three. We're doing some great things with our international baccalaureate. We've got other kinds of community schools efforts going on," he said. "So we're going to keep doing that. And at the same time we're going to look at how can we get better at what we do and do it for less."
Even with the levy renewal, the district still has to cut about a half-million dollars out of its $26 million budget next year. The school has about $3 million in what's called "statutory operating debt" and it needs to be paid down.
- Morning Edition, 12/14/2011, 6:20 a.m.