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Committee plans to push Red Wing school referendum

August 3, 2018

Karsten Anderson

RED WING — This time, the answer needs to be yes.

“We know the votes are out there, we just need to get people to vote,” said Jennifer Beck, who is spearheading the Yes Committee designed to educate voters and encourage them to support the Red Wing Public Schools’ operating levy referendum on the November ballot.

The group will hold a volunteer meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Red Wing Ignite.

On June 18, the Red Wing School Board approved a pair of ballot questions to put before voters Nov. 6. Question 1 will ask voters to approve a $1,200 per-pupil levy. Question 2 will ask voters to approve a second levy for an additional $450 per pupil. If both are approved, combined they would equal $1,650.

The district’s current voter-approved levy of $811.64 per pupil expires at the end of the 2018-19 school year. When it is gone, the district’s income will come from the board-approved $424 per pupil local optional revenue and a $300 per pupil levy.

At that funding level, the district would need to make about $3 million in permanent cuts for the 2019-20 school year and beyond.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Beck said. “The reality is that failure to pass this referendum will significantly harm our students’ educational experience and their preparedness for what lies ahead. It will also directly impact the economic well-being of our community.”

That last part is what has local businesses stepping up to support the committee’s efforts to get a pair of “yes” votes on the ballot.

At a recent school board meeting, Chap Achen from Red Wing Shoes Co., told the board that a quality education system is a key ingredient in attracting talented employees to the company’s manufacturing and corporate centers.

“We compete for talent that resides in the metro markets,” Achen told the board. “Getting that talent to move here is not just based on who we are as a company, it’s based on who this community is. And that story has to include a high-quality education in this community.”

Passing Question 1, said Red Wing Superintendent Karsten Anderson, would essentially maintain the current level of programming and staffing in the district. Question 2 would help fund a new STEAM initiative as well as increased technical and vocational training for students.

Last year, the voters rejected an operating levy that would have replaced the existing $811.64 levy with a $1,235.64 per pupil levy. A second question, which was also voted down, asked for an additional $500 per pupil.

That process, though, was done without the benefit of a community committee helping the school board sell its idea. This year, Beck said, will be different.

“Following the district’s release of a document outlining the possible consequences of a failed referendum, several concerned individuals stepped up saying they wanted to be involved to make sure this referendum passed,” she said. “We all ended up joining together and recruiting others to complete the group.”

That group includes business leaders in Red Wing as well as grassroots volunteers, like Beck, who want to make sure the schools get the money they need to not only keep the current programming going but improve things as well.

Last year, she said, when she voted for the referendum that failed, it never occurred to her that the community would not vote for the funding. Now, she plans to work to make sure everyone feels like she does on Nov. 6.

That means going to events to spread the word, running a social media campaign, and engaging community partners to help sell the message on the school district’s website. That message is that without Question 1, teachers and classroom aids will likely be cut severely, and class sizes will increase.

And, without Question 2, the district will not get better than it is, helping students better plan for their futures. That means helping students design their education to match what careers they hope to pursue in the future.{p class=”p1”}”Red Wing’s got this incredible civic pride,” she said, pointing to everything from the Sheldon Theatre and Anderson Center to the “best bakery in Minnesota.”

“We have all these things that are the ‘best,’” Beck said. “We have the opportunity to say the same things for the schools.”

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