Wrong on the referendum: breaking down the Herald/Villager editorial

The Chaska Herald and the Chanhassen Villager issued an editorial last week urging a “no” vote on the District 112 Technology Referendum.  While I can understand that reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the referendum, there are a couple of points in the editorial that deserve further discussion.

First, the editorial uses some aggressive language towards the referendum that frankly isn’t warranted.  This referendum isn’t a “money grab”, nor is it a “perpetual a la carte funding source”. (This phrase, of course, is just plain factually incorrect.  The levy goes for 10 years and would have to be re-approved by voters at that time.)  This is about the district having a stable funding source for needed technology upgrades over the next decade.

Why is stable funding important?  Because decisions in St. Paul have caused real damage to the district’s budget.  The last two budgets passed have taken $10.6 million out of the district’s budget over a four-year period.  That’s 40% more per year than this referendum will generate.

Both of the K-12 funding shifts have been supported universally by Carver County’s legislative delegation and signed off by two different governors.  (Although the delegation voted against the first shift for partisan reasons when it was ratified by the legislature in 2010, Sen. Julianne Ortman, Rep. Paul Kohls, and Rep. Joe Hoppe all supported the shift when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced it as part of his unallotment package in 2009.  This year, Ortman, Hoppe, and Rep. Ernie Leidiger all voted in favor of the second shift.)

Where is the voice of the Herald and Villager holding our legislative delegation and Govs. Pawlenty and Mark Dayton accountable for the damage they are doing to school budgets?

The notion that such strong language is reserved for district leadership now is somewhat strange as well.  This new administration team has proven themselves to be straight-shooters (whether or not you agree with their conclusions) and they haven’t had any of the foibles of the previous leadership team — namely a leadership style that was frequently divisive and some really costly accounting errors.

Perhaps the current administration’s less political approach to their job is a disadvantage when trying to pass a referendum, but I think we’re seeing better management of the day-to-day fundamentals.  And, that’s what is really important.  For example, note that the current administration was able to negotiate a new contract with the District’s teachers that is fiscally responsible without the long, contentious battle that occurred two years ago under the previous leadership.

Secondly, the Herald and Villager are trying to have it both ways in their criticism of the district.  On one hand, the district is criticized for trying to pass a referendum in these difficult economic times.  Then, the Herald and Villager complain that the referendum isn’t large enough to fund the entire technology plan.   Well, you can’t have it both ways.   The referendum is not about getting every item on the wishlist, but rather focused on making sure the most critical items are funded.

Look beyond the fuzzy logic of the Herald and Villager and look at the fundamentals.  The district has been responsible in its handling of the budget.  There are real funding gaps that are preventing necessary improvements in our schools.  This referendum is a responsible response to the challenges the district faces, sized to allow for needed upgrades and enhancements without unduly burdening the community.

I urge you to Vote Yes! on November 8.

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