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MN2020 - School Levies: Not in an Olympic Year
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School Levies: Not in an Olympic Year

November 02, 2007 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Voters in 99 school districts will go to the polls Tuesday to decide the financial future of their schools.

It's a high-stakes game. Failure often means job loss, a drop in the quality of education and, in some rare cases, the ruin of the district itself.

School board members, superintendents and business managers look for any edge that will help them win at the polls. The advice is simple: Don't run a campaign in Olympic years.

The evidence is compelling, even overwhelming.

  • Since 1990, the chance of winning a levy election in an odd year is 74 percent

  • In an even, non-presidential year, the chance of winning is 54 percent.

  • In an even year with a presidential election (and the Olympic Games), the chance of winning a levy election is 55 percent.

Greg Abbott, the associate director of communications with the Minnesota School Boards Association, said the reason is simple: In an even year, voters are deluged with election information. Candidates for president, senate, house, governor and state legislature all want attention.

"The media are all over the president and senate races, so with school races you're lucky to get one story in the newspaper. If you're going to run in an even year, you have to be ready to double or triple your efforts to get your information out," he said.
 
"But in an odd year, you're the only game in town and you get story after story. This means the public is better educated and if people are well informed, they are more likely to vote for a levy," he said.

Abbott said that until the 1980s, school elections were held in the spring and didn't conflict with major elections. The legislature moved the elections to November to increase voter participation.

He also said the stakes in the election are higher. "Twenty years ago, less than 47 percent of districts had an operating levy and they were for smaller amounts to be used for extras. In 2007, more than 90 percent of districts have an operating levy and they're not for extras any more," Abbott said.

Statistics provided by the Minnesota Department of Education show the largest number of successful levy elections was in 1995 and 1997 when 87 percent passed. The lowest number of wins was 38 percent in 2006 and 45 percent in 1996.

Also, the amount that districts request has little bearing on the chances of success - all amounts have about a 65 percent passage rate. There also is no difference between conducting a mail ballot and a non-mail ballot.

 

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