Voters face important decisions
Marshall school district voters have a couple important decisions to make Tuesday, including the election of three board members, one of which is guaranteed to be a newcomer.
But equally if not more importantly, voters will decide the fate of an additional tax levy that will provide the district about $1.8 million in funding each year for the next 10 years.
This levy was previously in place but expired in 2018. At that time, school officials were trying to pass a previously-defeated but needed building-levy and decided to let the smaller per-pupil levy expire in hopes of making the more expensive one more palpable. After the building levy passed, enrollment surged 18 percent from just a few years prior, and then COVID hit. Enrollment dropped a little, but the revenue decrease was offset by COVID funding.
Now, that COVID funding is gone and at the worst possible time, as inflation is skyrocketing, driving up expenses. Remember, these aren’t problems unique to Marshall. Every school in Minnesota is dealing with these exact issues, and in an ideal world, would be able to find relief at the state level, where more than 75 percent of school’s funding comes.
Unfortunately, where we should expect leadership and solutions, we find failure and uncertainty. Even when inflation was at manageable levels, our lawmakers failed to pass funding bills that kept pace with those higher costs. And now, with inflation spiking at 3 times the rate of previous years, that shortfall is more pronounced.
But the biggest elephant in the room for our local school leaders, the political pariah they can’t discuss publicly but privately terrifies them, is the uncertainty surrounding our state leadership. When the Republican candidate for governor infamously labels public schools “black holes” for funding, while advocating for siphoning state dollars to private and charter schools, school officials have every reason to fear the revenue challenges are only going to get worse before they get better. So to make up for our state’s failures regarding that 75 percent of our school’s revenue, the Marshall school district is turning again to the people who provide the smallest part of the total funding, the local tax payer, to shoulder more of a burden.
As expected, the district has provided a great deal of information on the levy including what it will be used for and giving a very general idea the ramifications of if it doesn’t pass. You can find much of that information at www.tomorrowstigers.org.
Again, there’s a lot of information there. But despite that volume, it is still incomplete and missing some context, including:
• The referendum is being promoted as a cost of $20 a month for the owner of a $200K home. That same home right now is being charged about $70 a month, equating the levy then to a 24 percent increase in school taxes.
• According to figures maintained by the state education department, which are available from 2014-2021, Marshall’s enrollment has increased about 11 percent.
• While 2021’s enrollment is up 11 percent, spending per student has increased 30 percent from $9,752 to $12,501.
• Adjusted for inflation as of 2021, that $9,752 becomes $11,227.
• Adjusted for inflation as of today, that $9,752 becomes $12,227.
As with any business, payroll is the greatest expense driver for the school district, so if cuts need to be made, the most significant ones will come there. Does Marshall have a lot of staff, and especially support staff compared to other districts? Probably. Does Marshall have a need for those extra support staff because there are more students today than ever before with additional needs? Without a doubt. And are we seeing results for the money we are currently investing? Considering Marshall schools are ranked in the top third in the state for standardized testing despite ranking as one of the most culturally diverse student bodies in the state, the answer is also definitely yes.
With that said, considering the financial strains everyone is facing, is now the right time to be asking for such a large increase to the tune of 24 percent? Is this the right time to be buying more security cameras, software, and “invest(ing) in academic coaches, parent-student connectors, nursing aids and intervention support staff,” as indicated by the tigerstomorrow website?
As previously stated, these are difficult decisions, and ultimately, one each voter will have to make individually. We at The Independent aren’t going to tell you how to vote.
There’s a lot of logical, financial reasons to support the levy, along with a general desire to continue to do what’s best for our children.
But on the flip side, there should be no shame in voting against it as whether you label it as $20 a month, or $240 a year, or a 24 percent increase, the amount is significant. And this isn’t a dire situation where Marshall’s on life support and this bond’s failure could lead to drastic measures. Again, comparatively speaking, local taxes make up a small piece of the funding pie for the school district.
Regardless though, Marshall voters have a long history of supporting the school, generally speaking, and probably will again Tuesday, making up for where the state fails us. Hopefully, they will be equally discerning when it comes to electing those state leaders, and start demanding more accountability from them relating to education funding in the future.