Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Minnesota School Districts Fear Losing Taxpayer Funds to Promote a Referendum

Why would DFL members of a government committee be interested in shutting down the testimony of a stay-at-home mom?  Could it be that school districts across Minnesota have reason to fear the taxpayers for the "education" they supposedly provide to students? 

On February 3, 2015, a bill was introduced into the Government Operation and Election Committee by Representative Glenn Gruenhagen that would prohibit public funds to promote or defeat a ballot question.  Sounds like common sense to me but, apparently, school districts don’t like the odds unless they outspend the voters who have opposing viewpoints.  Doesn’t seem like a fair fight when the money they use to push a referendum down our throat is money they received from us.  
Word of my testimony must have reached the South WashingtonCounty School District because former school board member, Jim Gelbmann, made an appearance.  While I realize the Jim has a job at the MN State Capitol, I found it interesting that he would choose to attend this particular hearing.  After all, his spotty attendance as a school board member was a contributing factor to his resignation in 2014.

Apparently, this bill is bringing out some powerful opponents.  An expert in opposition to HF208  rushed to the microphone after Rep. Gruenhagen introduced the bill. This so called expert stated that the bill was for state ballot questions only and excluded local ballot questions like school referendums.  He implied that taxpayers who took time off from work to give testimony  in favor of the bill  could pack their bags and go home. 
Attorney Erick Kaardal of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson was quick to provide his professional opinion as to why HF208 did include school referendums and local elections. Kaardal is a defender of citizens in their fight against big government and has made hundreds of appearances on behalf of his clients in federal and state courts.  I am relieved that he is on our side.

Don Huizenga a taxpayer from the Anoka-Hennepin County School District, was also present to offer his support of HF208.

Not easily dissuaded, I made my way to the microphone despite the objections to my testimony by DFL Representatives Michael Nelson and Carolyn Laine.  After what seemed like constant interruptions, I  told  the committee that two stay-at-home moms are now being charged up to $48 per hour by South Washington County Schools for some data requests.  This gave me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the taxpayers of Woodbury, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport who are appalled that their tax dollars are used to support a positive outcome for referendum campaigns.

My testimony to the committee is as follows:

Testimony in Support of HF208
Like most Minnesotans, I support prohibiting public officials from using public funds or resources to promote or defeat any ballot initiative.  It is crucial that school districts stop using taxpayer dollars to assure a positive outcome for referendum campaigns.  It leaves taxpayers and voters disadvantaged should they have an opposing viewpoint.
In 2013, South Washington County School Principal, Julie Nielson, was pulled off of her job at Middleton Elementary to aid the district in promoting the referendum.   This necessitated the hiring of a substitute principal to fill her position.  Therefore, taxpayers were funding both Ms. Nielson, whose salary for 2013 was $106,686, and the substitute principal whose salary remains a mystery. 
Emails from Ms. Nielson were sent to all legislative representatives in the South Washington County district.  This email provides the proof necessary to substantiate the claim that Ms. Nielson was, indeed, placed on special assignment to support the 2013 referendum campaign:
Hi  ---------: This is Julie Nielson wanting to connect with you to set up a one hour meeting time with our Superintendent.  I am on special assignment to start the year working on the district's referendum campaign and am in charge of all details surrounding getting accurate information out.  Dr. Jacobus has requested time to meet with each legislator individually.  I am hoping that you might be able to find time in the next 3-4 weeks to schedule a coffee, breakfast, lunch, or any time in between with Dr. Jacobus.  Feel free to send back a couple of dates/times that work for you and I will check his calendar.  If it is easier to give me a call, I can be reached at ------.  Thank you for your support and I look forward to hearing from you.  
As a taxpayer, I find this waste appalling.  Our District is now facing a budget shortfall of $8.5 million this academic school year.  Proposed cuts include the elimination of the elementary music program and a reduction in school nursing staff.   To add insult to injury, the district will be asking for over $180 million from taxpayers in the fall.  Our children are being short-changed and taxpayers overburdened.

~Updated 7:20am 2/4/15~AMB

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