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Letters to the editor: Referendum needed for our kids; Vote 'yes' to keep District 833 strong

District 833 teachers, students need public's support

Our public schools are the backbone of our communities. Caring, dedicated educators help students be their best selves and prepare tomorrow's workforce. Our communities thrive when we invest in our children's future.

District 833 teachers and students need our support in the upcoming election. Please vote "yes" on all three ballot questions so small class sizes and excellent instructional programs continue. Show up and make your voice heard on Nov. 7 for our kids and our future.

Josh Straka and Katie Sieben

Cottage Grove

Editor's note: Sieben is a former state senator.

Vote 'yes' to keep District 833 strong

For about 15 years, I have served on the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) of the South Washington County School District. During that time, I've learned a lot about public school finances, operations and management. An important fact is that our state Legislature has moved more into a model of providing increased operating referendum authority to voters to support high quality public education, while at that same time depending more on these voter-approved operating referendums. Larger school districts in the metro depend on about 10 percent to 20 percent of their revenue from operating referendums. School District 833, like Stillwater and Hastings, is at about 15 percent, which is critical to maintain relatively low class sizes, adequate course electives and student achievement.

Four key goals of the CFAC and District 833 include: 1) maintain relatively small class sizes, particularly in elementary schools (District 833 is better than average for the 48 metro school districts); 2) maintain low district level administrative costs (we're the lowest of 48 metro school districts); 3) attract, develop and retain excellent teachers and other staff for student achievement, and maintain a positive work environment (competitive salaries and benefits are a component); and 4) minimize interest costs (District 833 has been pretty good at this, but could have somewhat lower interest rates on construction bonding loans, if we rebuild our cash flow reserves (fund balance) to at least one month of operating expenses). Since the Great Recession, bond rating companies (Moody's, etc.) have wanted school districts to have more reserves to enable better bond ratings, at least partly because in the recent past our state delayed school district funding, negatively affected cash flow. Rebuilding fund reserves is critical, because it enables avoiding short-term loans for cash flow and a small increase in our bond rating can save as much or more in interest costs on construction bonds than the corresponding operating referendum cost to property owners. Interest cost reductions go directly to property owners in reduced school construction bonding costs.

Please join me in voting "yes" to help keep the South Washington County School District strong for our children, grandchildren and communities,

Al Kean

Cottage Grove

Referendum needed for our kids

"Why are you asking for money again?" That's a frequent question we receive, as school board members for South Washington County Schools. The reality is, with only 76 percent of our funds coming from the state, we, like most other Minnesota school districts, have come to rely on local levies to help fill the gap between state funding and what it actually costs to educate a student. Between the state not keeping up with inflation, and our unfunded mandates, it's made the 20 percent we receive in local levies critical to maintaining the high-quality education we provide.

It's also important to note that voter-approved levies only last for 10 years. That is why we need to come back to voters on a regular basis to renew these funds. Question 1 is a renewal of our largest levy that supports our schools, and has been a part of our budget for the last 20 years. Support for this levy renewal will result in no new tax increases for voters.

Approval of Questions 1, 2 and 3 will be the culmination of a long-range plan to help set our district up for financial success. We have only come to the voters as our needs have demanded. And over the past decade, we have reduced our overall expenses by more than $15 million, due to improved efficiencies and bond refinancing.

While we work to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we've also been able to keep class sizes lower than the metro average, we have brought teacher salaries up to the average, and have above-average state rankings on most all major indicators. All of that, while also keeping our administration costs low, ranking 48 out of 48 metro districts. But we cannot continue to provide the level of high-quality programs and services for our kids that our community has come to expect without sustained and additional funding.

This is why we must ask taxpayers to vote again. Thank you for your ongoing support for our kids and schools, and for learning about the referendum and where to vote on Nov. 7 at

South Washington County School Board members Tracy Brunnette, Ron Kath, Katy McElwee-Stevens, Katie Schwartz, Sharon Van Leer and Michelle Witte