Though it is likely needed, now’s not a good time to ask

By: 
John Mueller, news@newpraguetimes.com

A few weeks back, the New Prague Area School Board discussed the notion of once again asking voters to approve some form of levy increase, possibly a blend of levy and capital projects referendum.

The district has had two separate levy requests rejected, a two-part question in 2022 and a levy increase alone in 2023.

In a world where we are so divided, where the gulf between ideological left and right has seemingly never been greater, where some consider the former president a convicted felon and others consider him a victim of political persecution – no matter how great the need may be, no matter how compelling an argument the district can offer voters – now is probably not the best time to ask. No doubt there will be people who disagree with the idea of waiting. The need and the importance of educating children are too important to wait.

First, there is the idea of the amount of work it takes to identify and promote a successful levy referendum. District staff took on the Herculean tasks of working behind the scenes on the last referendum without additional staffing help. Absentee voting for a fall election would have to take place at city hall, not the district administrative offices.

The district contends it needs additional revenue badly. It has cut about $6 million from its general fund. Some of the cuts, OK’d in 2023, will come back. Others won’t. The cuts from 2024 included the elimination of phy-ed teachers at the elementary schools and the reduction in the amount of time grade-schoolers will have in phy-ed classes. An additional $2 million in cuts is expected for the 2024-25 school year. Class sizes will increase at the elementary, middle school and high school levels.

The school board passed the $3 million in cuts after the 2023 failed referendum with one dissenting vote, cast by Director Dan Call. Even though building principals agreed to freeze a negotiated wage increase, a departure from the raises negotiated the previous year, he wanted greater cuts to administration included in the package of spending cuts. If up to an additional $2 million in cuts are enacted, the opportunity to consider reductions in administrative spending will likely be on the table.

There are a handful of important reasons the board should probably wait another year. After suffering setbacks at the ballot box in 2022 and 2023, it should not risk three consecutive defeats at the ballot box. A third loss would be psychologically devastating. Waiting another year would spare the district having its request be lost in the muck of what is expected to be a brutal presidential race. There are too many voters who pay little attention to races besides the presidential election. Whether it asks for more money per student or money for a capital expense currently funded via the general fund, like computers used by students, the district needs voters who understand the details of its last year request. School board members understand not everybody will support a request, but they want the electorate to understand the details of the request.

With about 80% of its staff residing in the New Prague Area School District voting, time is needed to promote registration and support. Vote how you want, but the voter turnout for the last referendum, about 35 percent, is nothing to be proud of. The district needs more than 39% of adults whose children attend district schools to participate in the election.

Waiting a year will give families in the district time to adjust to increases in class sizes, the loss of phy-ed classes, the changes in transportation policy and the other impacts of the $3 million adjustment. Voters will have the time to decide if they accept the state of NP schools after another round of spending cuts. Call said he and his supporters would only support a referendum question if the district abandoned its policies promoting recognizing transgender students, gender identity and racial equity. Sure, a fraction of households have children in school, but families moving to a community often look at the quality of the district where children will be educated.

The question will be if New Prague Area Schools is a place where people want to be. The board still has time to decide if it wants to ask voters for their support this fall.

Stay tuned.

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