Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #015. First published in the St. Cloud Times Oct. 28, 2008

The way some people talk about the 21st century, you'd think we were still preparing for it. But it's almost 9 percent gone. And when a kid who starts school this year graduates from high school in 2021 — well, you get the idea.

Twenty-first century reality is fully upon us — globalization, communication, teamwork, innovation, flexibility, diversity and a premium on mathematics and science and technology with no letup in the need for skills in reading and writing.

Last month the Paramount Theatre and the St. Cloud Public Library were celebrated as testimonials to "Planning for the Future," a trait that won this area a LivCom Gold Award for best in the world. One week from today we will have another local opportunity to make an even more critical decision in planning for the future, a vote on the St. Cloud school district levy.

Disclosure: My wife co-chairs Neighbors for School Excellence.

Will we say yes to the hopes of the next generation, or will we say no because we're afraid for ourselves?

What happens if we say no to this levy? Given that the district has made $20 million in cuts in the past six years, the additional $4.3 million in cuts will be devastating: dramatic increases in class size, closing of buildings, elimination of programs. Changes in every school attendance area will most likely occur. And it can be predicted that many advantaged students will open-enroll in other districts.

New residents might decide to move to Sartell or Sauk Rapids. If past experience is a guide, the district could head into a downward spiral from which it would take years to recover. Is this the future we want?


Levy opponents complain the district is top-heavy with administration. The facts are different. The district spends only 3.9 percent of its budget on administration. Its average administrative cost per student is 21 percent lower than the state average. Compared to districts of similar size, it is ninth out of 10 in expenditures for district administration and seventh out of 10 in expenditures for school level administration.

Levy opponents say, "My kids have already graduated, so why should I pay anything to educate other people's kids?" Do those who say this realize their own education was funded by many more people than just their parents?

Education is a cornerstone of our democracy; it is the primary way we commit ourselves to one another. And even from a self-interest perspective, a well-educated work force is prerequisite to prosperity for all of us, especially in the globalized 21st-century economy.

Other districts

I don't know anyone who thinks property taxes are the best way to fund education, but I don't know anyone either who thinks the state is providing adequate resources. Three hundred of the 340 school districts in Minnesota have at least one operating levy. The state average is $696 per student. Ours is $97, and that will expire at the end of the year.

In our neighboring districts — Sartell-St. Stephen and Sauk Rapids-Rice, the taxes on similar property values are more than those in the St. Cloud district will be even if all three parts of the levy referendum pass. Citizens in those districts are committed to a 21st-century education for 21st-century kids. It's time for us in 742 to step up to the plate!

Times are tough, but saying "No" will make them much worse. Remember how much of what you value, how much of what gave you opportunity, depended on an earlier generation's saying "Yes" when the needs of education were clear and compelling.

The district has listened carefully to the community, and the levy proposal is clear and compelling. The levy campaign links "Excellence and Accountability." That's a winning combination for the 21st century. Let's say yes to all three levy questions. I like to imagine a high school graduate in 2021 looking back with pride and gratitude for the way we citizens in 2008 deserved, once again, our award for doing the best "Planning for the Future."