Bluejacket Pride was plentiful during our All-Class Reunion in August and Homecoming a couple of weeks ago. Both events provided an opportunity for our entire community to show their school spirit and pride.

In the coming weeks, our community will vote on the future strength of our public schools. Following a Community Task Force recommendation, we are asking our community to invest in students’ futures - our collective future - and preserve what it means to be a Bluejacket.

After studying our district finances since January, a Community Task Force of 38 individuals recommended that the school district hold a referendum this year to fix a chronic funding shortfall. 

The Task Force dug into district finances and operations, talked to experts in school funding, and reviewed past budget cuts and their impact on students and learning. In April, they concluded that we are falling behind in meeting the growing needs of students and need more funding. Unfortunately, we do not have a voter-approved operating referendum like most school districts, and that is hurting childrens’ learning opportunities. After all, local funding is part of a three-legged stool for schools in Minnesota, and our local funding falls short.

State funding has not kept pace with inflation over the last decade. Even this year when the legislature touted a historic increase, it was less than inflation. Most districts have a local voter-approved operating referendum to close the gap. Cambridge-Isanti does not.

After careful consideration, the Task Force and School Board arrived at a straightforward, two-question referendum. It specifically requests additional funds to: 

Support student learning. 

Hire more high-quality teachers to reduce class sizes. 

Expand vocational-technical classes to support career and college readiness.

As a bonus, if a referendum is approved, it will also bring about $500,000 in new state aid for our district. They say the state helps those who help themselves.

I’d like to address three questions I’m often asked about this referendum.

1) Why can’t we just spend within our means? We are. We have balanced our budget each of the last three years by cutting expenses. We have cut $8.5 million, slashed our curriculum supplies budget by 57% and eliminated 100 jobs from our payroll. We are losing good teachers to districts that have more stable funding. We have 38 students in classes at the middle school and high school. With class sizes of 38, each student receives 40% less individual time and attention from a teacher than in a class of 25. 

Our school district now ranks #311 out of 327 school districts in Minnesota in per-student funding. And we spend less per pupil than any other school district in the Mississippi 8 Conference. We will have to cut another $1 million to balance the budget next year if the referendum does not pass, and continue to do so into the foreseeable future. 

2) Can’t you just cut sports and after school activities and stick to the basics?

We believe in a well-rounded education, and learning happens beyond the walls of the classroom. After school activities teach students discipline, responsibility and teamwork. They provide a sense of belonging - being part of something bigger than oneself. And activities provide students with a sense of purpose. Students learn to be accountable to their team and their coach or club advisor. Statistically, students who are involved in extracurriculars also earn better grades. In fact, of our teams/clubs and theatre groups, 22 have a 3.0 or higher cumulative group grade point average (GPA) and 14 are higher than a 3.5 team GPA. We want kids involved in activities and to be well-rounded. 

3) How can private schools educate students for under $6,000 in tuition and public schools cost so much more? The answer is private schools can’t. Private school tuition might be less, but “tuition alone does not cover the cost of a private education,” according to the school’s website. Gifts (large and small) bridge the gap between tuition and the actual cost of operating the school. Some costs, like transportation and student support services are funded through our public school district. With unpublished budgets, per/pupil expenses by private schools are unclear, but it is certainly higher than tuition alone. Private schools can also be selective in admissions and aren’t required to educate all students, which is the responsibility of public schools. We know that our C-I School’s general education cost per pupil is $8,225 which is significantly below the state average of $9,500. And we know that, after $8.5 million of budget reductions, we are the LOWEST spending district in the Mississippi 8 Conference and one of the lowest spending school districts in the state of Minnesota.

Our mission is to develop well-rounded students who become responsible citizens in our community. There are currently 40,000 good-paying jobs in manufacturing in Central Minnesota, and we need to expand vocational-technical classes that have been cut back over the years so our graduates are prepared for those careers. We need to lower our class sizes so students receive more individual learning and personal attention. We need to stop budget cuts, so we can attract and keep high-quality teachers and staff.

Our children are the future of this community, and strong communities have strong schools. Our community faces critical workforce shortages, and if we want to attract young parents and workers into our communities, we need to provide a high-quality education for their children. 

In Minnesota, funding schools is a shared responsibility. The average school operating referendum is $865 per pupil; we are asking for $565 per student to support learning, hire teachers and reduce class sizes (in question 1) and for $121 per student to expand vocational-technical-career classes (in question 2). If both questions are approved, it will cost $12 per month on a $200,000 property. Visit www.c-ischools.org/referedum to learn the facts and test out our tax calculator to see your specific cost. If you have specific questions, please call me at 763-689-6202.

 DR. NATE RUDOLPH is superintendent of Cambridge-Isanti Schools. He can be reached at  763-689-6202 or nrudolph@c-ischools.org.

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