An operating referendum seeks voter permission for a school district to receive additional levy revenues to fund essential operating expenses, like salaries, utilities, curriculum, and transportation.
Minnesota’s education funding system is based on a state and local partnership to provide the resources and opportunities our students need to graduate college or career ready. Bloomington Public Schools (BPS) relies on voter-approved referendum funds for its operating budget. Local property taxes provide 11.4 percent of the district’s operating budget. The State’s share of the district’s operating revenue is 74.4 percent.
Our revenues are not sufficient to cover annual operating costs. Over the past five years the district has spent down its savings (known as a fund balance) by $14.1 million. We are fortunate to have this type of rainy-day fund because of our sound financial management.
During the recent recession, the District was one of the few metro area school districts that did not cut programs and services. Our highly regarded fiscal management resulted in a fund balance to prepare for the inevitable impact of limited state funding and a shift in enrollment.
An operating referendum’s permission for additional levy revenue is capped at no more than 10 years. In the early 1990s, the Legislature set limits to cap the additional per pupil levy revenue a district may request approval for from its voters. Bloomington can seek permission to receive $465 in additional levy revenue per student. The district is seeking voter approval for these funds to offset rising costs and remain competitive with our neighboring and comparable school systems.
We’ve been investing our savings to provide what the community values - high quality teachers and staff, small class sizes, small neighborhood schools, and innovative programming. The referendum is a chance for our community to confirm that they agree with these community values.
The district has reduced operating expenses by $7.5 million to direct most of the budget to the classroom and learning activities. In fact, we allocate over 85 percent of our operating budget on instruction and curriculum, which is higher than the state average of 82 percent and among the highest of our neighboring districts. In comparison, we spend less on maintenance and transportation costs in large part because of efficiencies in staffing and management.
We have also reduced non-instructional operating costs to maximize dollars for the classroom, including:
Studies show that strong schools and a strong community go hand in hand. The benefits of a strong school system are vital to a thriving community, including:
Conversely, there’s also research that shows the wide-ranging negative impact when communities cut their investment in public schools, including reductions in personal income and earning potential, and declining property values.
Bloomington Public Schools has a long history - 100 years in fact - of being a strong school district thanks to the investment of its parents, staff and community.
Voters approved a capital projects referendum in 2013 that provided funds to increase school safety and security and keep pace with rapidly changing classroom technology. The capital projects referendum provides funding through 2024. The funds cannot be used in the same manner or purpose as the operating referendum.