The following post was published as a Guest Column in the November 1, 2017 Northfield News.
It is decision-time for Northfield voters. On Tuesday, the School District will be asking the community to answer two referendum questions. The first question is asking to increase funding to sustain current programming. The second question will address several facilities needs. The referendum questions articulate a clear vision for the District: student learning and long-term financial stewardship. Our goal is for students to start strong and leave prepared to successfully pursue their aspirations.
Prioritizing the operating levy is a testament to the District’s commitment to serve our students. Eighty percent of any school budget is used for people – the people we hire to work with kids every day. Students always come first. The District has to ask taxpayers for additional financial resources to maintain our outstanding programs because the State Legislature has not provided adequate funding…for decades.
Access to high-quality preschool is no longer “nice.” It is essential for student success. The District needs more room to fulfill our commitment to every child and to ensure there is space for the high-quality preschool experience researchers tell us is necessary both educationally and economically. Economists like former Minneapolis Federal Reserve Vice President Art Rolnick say early learning is the best economic development Minnesotans can invest in with a seven dollar return for every dollar invested.
There are numerous reasons that led to the decision to propose a new Northfield High School. Ensuring students are prepared to be successful in a rapidly changing world tops the list. The current facility represents a bygone era when learning was focused on teachers imparting knowledge through lecture. We know our children do not all learn in the same way. The latest research about human development indicates our students need different approaches than the current facility can support. A building needs to support a variety of teaching methods, opportunities for learning by doing, and provide flexible spaces that value and promote every student’s post-graduation path. An attempt to remodel this antiquated structure cannot cost effectively address these space needs nor adequately address security issues stemming from the current building’s 50 exits.
The referendum proposal aims to address a number of challenges facing the District in the next decade and beyond. It solidifies the District’s position of financial strength, addresses numerous facilities needs, and takes advantage of low-interest rates to give Northfield the best school facilities possible for their tax dollars. Delaying these needed projects will only cost taxpayers more long-term when factoring in annual construction inflation that averages between five-to-seven percent per year.
The District’s three-year process leading up to this referendum has been thoughtful and proactive. It involved hundreds of community members participating in person or online. The result is a proposal that demonstrates a vision for supporting every student’s learning in a fiscally responsible manner when one takes the long-term financial view. The referendum clearly demonstrates our commitment to helping every student start strong and leave prepared. Thank you in advance for your consideration and please be sure to vote on Tuesday, November 7th.