When “local control” becomes a meaningless catch phrase

We support the belief that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that parents, teachers and local school boards can make the best decisions about our children’s education. – Rep. Duane Quam

The House Education Finance committee will hear testimony on H.F. 1858 tomorrow.  This bill would only allow local school districts to hold operating levy referendums in even-numbered years.  Currently, districts have the ability to choose whether to hold such referendums in odd- or even-numbered years.

Representative Garofalo will work to keep schools under the control of local parents and teachers. – Rep. Pat Garofalo campaign website

This bill would stomp all over the local control that Republicans — and specifically, a number of the bill’s authors — claim they want for their local districts.  And it’s poor policy on the merits, as well.  The state typically makes its major budget decisions in the odd-numbered years.  (That’s why we had our big state budget blowout last year, in 2011.)  This law would force districts to wait 18 months after those decisions are made before they can seek additional funding from voters.  This is nothing more than an attempt to force reduced budgets on to public schools.  It’s time for legislators to do their jobs when it comes to providing consistent funding for K-12 education instead of tying the hands of local officials who get to clean up the mess made in St. Paul.  Remember, it’s these same legislators who have balanced the budget in the last two cycles by sucking $2 billion out of our children’s education.

The more local control over your tax dollars, the more wisely the money will be spent. – Rep. Andrea Kieffer

Garofalo, the chair of the Education Finance committee, has accused school boards of using the odd-year referendums to “fleece” taxpayers. Garofalo should have more faith in voters.  If there’s one thing voters have proven in recent years — at all levels of government — it’s that they’re willing to vote out incumbents who they think aren’t doing the job.  The fact that Garofalo finds himself in the majority in the State House is testament to that fact.  Here in Eastern Carver County, voters replaced  four of the seven seats on the District 112 School Board in 2010 and voted down the technology referendum request in 2011.

Sadly, this bill is not the only bill that has headed down this road during the legislative session.  For instance, last year they pushed H.F. 381, which would have mandated a pay freeze across all districts in the state.

It’s time for the Legislature to start walking their talk.  “Local control” shouldn’t be a catch phrase — it should actually mean something.  Let school boards do their jobs and the voters will hold them accountable.  We don’t need this unnecessary meddling from the state.


7 Responses to “When “local control” becomes a meaningless catch phrase”

  1. This bill does give us more local control of tax dollars. Our district tried to fleece us this last year, and the reason districts like to do odd year levies, is that fewer people come out to vote. But guess who always comes out to vote for a levy. That’s right, everyone involved in the district, and every union thug they can muster. It’s known tactic of the districts, and this bill is calling them on their behavior, which is why people like you don’t like it.

    I wouldn’t sweat it though. This bill makes perfect sense, and therfore Dayton will likely veto this one as well.

    • It’s not “local control” to have the folks in the Capitol tie the hands of school boards. Voters have shown they are more than capable of holding school boards accountable if they try to game voters, whether it’s here or in any other school district across the state. This is unnecessary meddling from the state.

  2. The term “local control” is often used as a rallying cry when a discussion on the merits does not produce the results that a particular group wants. I have seen this time and time again. I sat on a League of Minnesota Cities committee for three years and witnessed this first hand.

    The question is, who is responsible for ensuring that there is a democratic governance process in this state? Is it a school board bylaw? A city ordinance? No, it is the Constitution of the State of Minnesota. That is the foundation of our democratic process. That along with the federal constitution guarantees one person, one vote, majority rule, etc.

    A further read of the constitution shows that the state creates all local government and therefore can abolish and/or regulate it. The only partial exception is charter cities, which also happens to be in the constitution. School districts are nowhere to be found in the state constitution that I know of.

    It is the state that is responsible to assuring that certain democratic principals are upheld. The fact is that off year elections have miserable turnout. We can spend all day arguing why this is the case, but that really doesn’t matter. The fact is that all across the state, the legislature has been allowing regularly scheduled elections to be held that have turnout in the 5-10% range. Does this fit the definition of a democratic process? When there are elections that have a 60%+ turnout, is it proper to schedule elections at other times?

    I would like to see this bill rewritten. I think the legislature should be looking at performance standards. At what point does the low turnout start to raise questions about whether we have a democratic process? Is it 10%? 20%? 30% turnout? The legislature should set the bard at let’s say 30%. Your city, county, school can hold elections at whatever time, day, or year that you dream up, but the bottom line is that you must consistently hit the bottom standard.

    I also think that people overlook the fact that many of these oddball elections in many areas, rural and metro, have consolidation of precincts. In the north metro area, they made everyone drive to the district center, not your local polling place. This suppresses voter turnout and I would argue harms minorities and the underprivileged. Finding transportation to your local polling place is a lot easier than having to find transportation to the district center that may be located in a different county. This is more than just the time of the elections, it is also about the location of the elections.

  3. Beyond the petty barbs and name-calling offered by some in favor of this idea is an avoidance of the key issue, which is the ability of a local entity to make rapid adjustments to changes in their market or business. No business would survive if the ability to adjust to severe cash flow issues was delayed for over a year. At times it is necessary to maintain or increase revenue to preserve basic services, customer loyalty, and long-term viability, and if a revenue stream shifts, it is a logical free-market decision to compensate through an approach that preserves the viability of the enterprise. Mr. Brunette is not a proponent of open enrollment, but the reality of the matter is that hundreds of students leave District 112 each year for districts like Minnetonka, who maintain that competitive edge. To impose an arbitrary delay adds a tax to local communities as facility upkeep is sacrificed in the interim, causing higher repair bills in the future. It adds a tax as class sizes swell, hurting the quality of education and the reputation of the community and encouraging parents to pull their kids out of those schools. It taxes the community by forcing districts to borrow money and plan for short-term survival instead of long-term success. All in all, this is a tax on common sense through big-government intervention. What “conservative” can favor this?

    Also, the argument about a certain voter threshold is disingenuous, at best. If the goal was to encourage voter turnout to guarantee input in the process, then we would make registration and voting easier for the masses to participate in. The same people who favor these restrictions on voting dates, however, are the ones offering laws that would restrict voting in a false attempt to address a form of fraud that isn’t being committed. Voter fraud happens in the form of registration fraud (see ACORN, and others), or voter caging (see the statements of the Kansas Republican Party chair in 2007, “the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years.”), or outright voter suppression (see the statement from Michigan GOP state rep. John Pappageorge in 2004, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.”). The 2008 Minnesota elections saw 38 cases of voter fraud, all of which were of felons voting when their rights had not been reinstated, which is not the target of the GOP efforts. This is about Stalin’s approach to political victory, where “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.” Or more accurately, those who decide who is allowed to vote, or when. You can’t claim to serve the will of the people, and to preserve the power of the people over government, if you allow government to choose who has the right to speak and how. It is a fraud that promotes big government over true freedom.

  4. I think the issue of whether a particular legislator supports voter ID or not isn’t the issue.

    Under our current system, we have one of the most easy and accessible voter registration systems in the country. We also have the highest voter turnout in the country.

    But in the last school board election in my area, 11% turnout in a highly contested election. Problem is that elections held at oddball times get very little publicity.

    Second problem is that elections held at oddball times often times run with consolidated precincts. That suppresses voter turnout. It probably suppresses voter turnout more than voter ID ever would.

    I say let the locals hold elections whenever they choose. But set the bar where if they don’t get a certain amount of participation, then the results don’t count. If we can get 70+% in a state general election, it is ridiculous to look the other way when they hold levy referendums at oddball times and get a 10% turnout. If you want a special election and want to pay through the teeth for it, then fine, but you have to go full throttle and do what it takes to advertise this election and get a reasonable turnout.

    • I think when you put in participation requirements like that you just offer another way to game the election — by not showing up. The proper way to handle this situation is to vote out school board members who aren’t doing right by their constituents, not by putting additional mandates on local districts.

  5. That’s one of the reasons for the bill is that the advertising for a levy is very one-sided. Our only source of information is typically the district. Occassionally you get letter writers in the local papers who get folks stirred up in opposition, but the bottom line is that many people don’t seem to turn out for just an off year levy. And having the 10% who do show up, many of which have a vested interest in the outcome, doesn’t represent all families. It would nice to have a quorum or something like that for these levies. It should be difficult for any levy to pass. Your talking abnout taking money out of people’s pockets. While it’s sad that few seem to care one way or the other, it really should come down to a majority of folks who are willing foot an additional bill. This is about electing people. It’s about electing more spending, and that sholdn’t be taken lightly.

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