I am announcing my candidacy for the Cambridge Isanti School District Board. My family has lived in the district for 19 years. Our oldest child recently graduated from high school and our other child is still in the district. I served on the Community Education Board from 2015 to 2018, volunteer coach for Odyssey of the Mind and so much more.
I believe the current school board has been trying their best to cope with a difficult situation but we have seen year after year worsening results. Three of the seven school board seats are up for election this fall. The three current board members are running for reelection – I am the only outsider in this race.
The Cambridge Isanti School District is suffering through a financial crisis, leading to an educational decline.
Last year the district cut $4.5 million, and this budget cycle has cut another $3 million. Pre-covid19 decisions caused the budget cuts. The current pandemic only exasperates an already tricky situation. The State of Minnesota is facing a $2.4 billion deficit by next July and a further $4.7 billion deficit the next two years with no federal help on the horizon. The lack of state resources means the financial cliff our district has already plunged off only gets deeper.
The school district spent down its cash reserves in previous years, leading to massive cuts. As stated by the Administration, they have seen increased cost averaging 3% during a period in which revenue only increases by 2%. The district chose to increase expenses at a time when it could not be afforded. The School Board also did not start work on repairing this issue when it first arose. If they had started controlling spending sooner and addressed the structural deficit years ago we would have had a much more even budget.
Three fundamental issues lead to this crisis.
The first issue is the state funding formula, which has for years undervalued students in the Cambridge Isanti school district. Lack of State funding is not new, nor has it changed – it is essentially a given. This given should have been reflected in the school districts long term budgeting. It was not. The budget decisions the last five years have acknowledged the lack of funding but spent as if it would magically get better. If elected, I will work to improve the funding formula with our local legislators and school board members from across the state.
I have experience working with key legislators to enhance funding for cities and financing for economic development at the local level when I was Mayor of Isanti. Our school district must not continue to ignore the financial realities of long-term budgeting and must work to bring our state tax money back to our School District to support our children’s education.
The second issue is ignoring the financial fundamentals of Isanti County, which is home to the vast majority of school district taxpayers. Isanti county relies predominantly on residential properties to pay for the school district’s share of local property taxes. Creating a voter-approved operating levy is difficult. The state has allowed school districts without a voter-approved levy to raise a lesser amount through a board approved levy, which the Cambridge Isanti School district did. Suppose the reason for on purpose jumping off a financial cliff was to scare voters into supporting an operating levy. In that case, it won’t be successful until the district shows it is a good steward of community resources. I don’t know the strategy behind spending so much more money for years than what was sustainable.
Then making massive cuts to our schools that all but ensure a person who graduates in 3 or 4 years has a markedly different experience than a student lucky enough to have graduated two years ago. I have heard defenders of the current school board state that students’ education will not suffer after these massive cuts, and to that, I ask how that is possible. Of course, the educational experience will be different. Our teachers, custodial staff, transportation staff, food service staff, and all other support staff will suffer and already have.
The third primary area of concern to me is the complete lack of a plan going forward. In my previous elected offices, I created long term and short term financial plans that lead us to success. My first term as Mayor of Isanti saw that Nation fall into the Great Recession. We worked very hard, made tough decisions and created a plan that made us much stronger fiscally than before the Great Recession. We cut debt, cut taxes and improved our city’s credit rating. We all have to work together to get our district’s finances under control to ensure that our students receive the best education possible.
I have a proven record through the Great Recession of financial success in local government. Go to wimmerswilderness.org and check out my history of solving local government issues and community involvement. If we cannot provide the resources in a responsible way for our students and educators, then we should be prepared for more multimillion-dollar cuts.
Each week I will do Facebook live sessions, podcast, blog post and videos discussing education. Please send me your questions, comments and concerns through any of my social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and wimmerswilderness.org. You may also email me at email@example.com
I humbly ask for your vote November 3rd, and more importantly, I ask for your help to make Cambridge Isanti Schools the best they can be.