Citing continued revenue shortfalls from the state and a lack of an operating referendum, the Cambridge-Isanti School Board is taking a second crack at getting voter approval for an operating referendum in order to increase per pupil funding for the district.
The first attempt, which was on last November’s ballot, asked for $800 per student initially, with the amount increasing to $1,200 per student in 2024. That referendum failed by a 62.33% to 37.67% margin.
This time around, the district is taking a different approach with their ask of taxpayers. The vote is being broken into two questions, with the first question asking for $565 per student “to hire and retain high-quality teachers and support students.” The second question will be dependent on the first question being approved. Should that happen, the district is asking for an additional $121 per student, with that money being specifically earmarked for “Vocational Technology and College Readiness.”
According to the district’s information, if the referendum passes, the owner of a $200,000 would see an impact of $95 per year ($8 per month) for the first question and another $50 per year ($4 per month) for the second question.
“State funding for education in Minnesota has not kept pace with inflation in the last decade,” Superintendent Dr. Nate Rudolph said during the Aug. 19 School Board meeting. “Cambridge-Isanti Schools now ranks in the bottom 7% of all districts in Minnesota for per student spending and per student funding. Inadequate funding has led to larger class sizes, fewer teachers and staff, fewer critical support systems for our students, and fewer career and technical learning opportunities for our students.”
Dr. Rudolph pointed out the amount of this referendum, which would generate a total of $2.97 million annually for 10 years if the first question passes and $3.6 million annually if both questions pass, is roughly half the previous referendum request. At the same time, the district has been working on finding ways to restructure their debt in order to minimize their upcoming levy amount, which should equalize some of the impact on taxpayers.
“Through the restructuring of debt, should the referendum pass, taxes on ag land should actually decrease slightly,” Dr. Rudolph said. “(However) we will only restructure debt to lower taxes if the referendum passes in November.”
Additionally, the passage of the referendum would enable the district to receive additional funding from the state. Based on the state’s funding formula, if the referendum passes, the state will pay 20% of the referendum amount.
“There’s a portion of the amount of the referendum that would be paid by the State of Minnesota,” Dr. Rudolph said. “Our taxpayers are currently paying that money in their taxes, which then goes out to other communities and other districts across the state because we don’t have any operating levy on the books. So that (the passing of the referendum) would cause those dollars to come back to our hometown, rather than other going to other places.”
How to vote
Dr. Rudolph acknowledged one of the shortcomings of last year’s referendum was that it was placed on the same ballot as a national election.
“Last year, it was hard to get peoples’ attention and break through the noise of the campaigns of the elections last year,” he said. “This year, it’s all about funding our schools.”
Since this will be the only ballot question in November’s elections, though, how people can vote will be different on election day. Instead of all of the typical polling places, there will be just two polling locations for the entire district - Cambridge Fire Hall and Isanti Community Center (see sidebar for a general description of who votes where). These two locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
For those who wish to vote early, that can be accomplished either in person or by mail. In person early voting will be open from Sept. 17 through Nov. 1 at two locations. The first is the C-I Schools District Office, located at 625A Main Street North, Cambridge. Voting hours will be 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Nov. 1.
The second location is Cambridge-Isanti High School at 430 8th Ave NW, Cambridge, using the main entrance. Voting hours will be weekdays, 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., except for Thursdays when voting hours are extended to 8 p.m. There will also be voting available from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30. On Monday, Nov. 1 it will also be extended to 5 p.m.
For those who wish to vote by mail, they need to request a ballot application, which can be obtained on the district’s website at c-ischools.org and clicking on the “referendum” tab and scrolling down to the “voting” tab at the bottom of the page. Applications can also be sent via email by contacting Melanie Allen at email@example.com.
Filled out applications can then be returned in person to the District Offices, mailed to 625A Main Street North, Cambridge, MN 55008, or emailed to Melanie Allen. The actual ballots will then either be issued in person at the District Offices or mailed out. The completed ballots also can be returned in person to the District Office or via mail to the same address as the applications. All ballots must be received by the district by Election Day.
For additional questions regarding the referendum, go to c-ischools.org and click on the “referendum” tab.