Six school districts in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota counties have tax requests on the ballot. Here's what they're asking for.

·3 min read

Oct. 28—There are 77 Minnesota school districts with 90 different tax requests before voters on Nov. 2.

Roughly 49 of those are asking to renew or increase funds provided by taxpayers through property taxes for district operations, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. The remaining 41 are capital requests to pay for infrastructure, technology or other investments.

In Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties, there are six districts with a total of 10 tax requests on the ballot, according to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Four of those levies are for money to pay for classroom technology, software, personnel and training. The other six are for district operations either in the form of levy renewals, replacements or new increases.

School advocates say these requests are relatively typical for an off-year election when not much is on the ballot besides some local races. However, the last 20 months have been anything but typical for public schools because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the third academic year in a row that's been overshadowed by the coronavirus. COVID-19 has disrupted school and the way students learn more than any other event in modern history.


Communities are divided over mask mandates, vaccines and other coronavirus mitigation measures. School board meetings in many districts have become contentious and more than 70 board members have resigned so far this year.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, says some school leaders are worried controversy over pandemic restrictions could turn voters against routine funding requests. Before COVID-19, districts across Minnesota had strong support from voters for tax levies.

"That's always a concern in our referendum elections," Croonquist said, noting that districts are cautious to gauge the political mood before asking for money. "This year, maybe a little more so."

Public opinion is increasingly important to understand, Croonquist and Kirk Schneidawind, of the Minnesota School Boards Association, say because local levies have become part of the bedrock of public education funding in Minnesota.


It's long been the case for day-to-day operations as well as building maintenance and construction. Now, it's a key way classroom technology is funded.

Roughly a quarter of capital requests statewide are for technology — something that was essential to navigating school closures during the pandemic. Yet there's no long-term dedicated source of state funding for classroom tech.

"If you don't have a technology levy, you have to fund it out of the general fund," Croonquist noted.


District leaders also have to respond to questions about funding requests after Minnesota got more than $1.3 billion in federal aid to help schools recover from the pandemic.

Education advocates note the federal aid, in many cases, came with restrictions on how it could be spent. Much of it was focused on covering short-term costs associated with the pandemic, such as protective equipment, cleaning, air purifying and other responses.

"The federal money," Schneidawind says, "was a temporary stop gap. A short-term fix in a pandemic crisis."

The tax requests before voters next week have been put together to help districts establish more long-term security, advocates say. But it won't be clear until the votes are tallied if residents see it that way.

"The mood? I wish it were better. But we are always optimistic," Schneidawind said. "I think districts do a good job making the case."


Here's a closer look at the districts with levies in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties:

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