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The Future Is In Your Hands

A year ago this week I joined the Bluejacket family, and have learned over the past year what a special community we have in Cambridge-Isanti. I am grateful for the strong community support of our schools. This is a community that values education and has high expectations for responsibility, self-discipline, respect, compassion and honesty—the Bluejacket Way.

Over a long history, our schools have produced many local and state leaders, most recently including Brig. General Shawn Manke who recently was appointed to lead the Minnesota National Guard; Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy; Ryan Larson who was a top 10 finalist this year for Minnesota Teacher of the Year; and aspiring Olympian Char Morke, CIHS “19 — a state champion pole vaulter and a second-year Midshipman at the US. Naval Academy who continues to break records.

With our College in the Schools program, last year’s seniors earned more than 1,200 college credits—saving more than $1.6 Million in college tuition collectively. And although we don’t have 2020 ACT scores due to COVID-19, we know those heading off to college in 2019 achieved an average ACT score of 23.7, exceeding the state average. With 60% of our graduates heading to college (in-person or online this fall), 40% are heading into our local workforce. Our CIHS certification programs prepare students to enter high-demand jobs right out of high school— as a certified welder or certified nursing assistant for example. We have 11 such career programs at the high school.

Our graduates and alumni were the product of a well-supported educational program in Cambridge-Isanti Schools. The question we now face is whether future generations of Bluejackets will be afforded the same high-quality education that previous generations received. Our district is at a crossroads.

Over the last two years, the district has reduced expenses by $7.5 Million. Recent budget reductions have resulted in the elimination of more than 90 staff. We have:

  • Reduced teachers at all levels, resulting in large class sizes
  • Reduced cleaning and custodial staff time
  • Reduced administration and delayed curriculum updates
  • Eliminated innovation, instructional coaches and instructional assistant positions
  • Increased student fees for activities

Without additional funding, the district faces another $1.7 million in reductions for next year. We know the state has more than a $4 Billion deficit and we can’t rely on decisions in St. Paul to help our finances. So, parents and community members have encouraged the district to place a referendum on the ballot to maintain high-quality schools. A voter-approved operating referendum is the District’s only option for avoiding a third consecutive year of budget reductions and lay-offs.

This summer the district surveyed residents to identify strategic priorities for the future. Lowering class sizes, increasing cleaning, and securing adequate funding were the top priorities. More than 60% or respondents said they would support additional taxes to fund our schools.

Last week the Cambridge-Isanti School Board unanimously adopted a resolution to place an operating referendum on the ballot for November 3, 2020. We are taking a financially conservative approach to minimize the tax impact and stretch funding as far as it will go. We are asking for $25 per month on an average property (valued at $200,000)—less than $1 per day for 2021-2023, and an additional $15 per month beginning in 2024-2030. We have a long-term strategic financial plan, and we are only asking for what we need when we need it. We hope you will read the extensive information on our website at www.c-ischools.org/referendum

It is also noteworthy that if we pass a referendum, we will qualify for additional equalization aid, and the state will pay $103 per student of the $800 per student that we are seeking. Combined the state and local funding would be an increase of $4 Million in annual revenue.

Because we can’t hold large in-person meetings, we are asking neighborhoods, service clubs and other groups to please host small gatherings. Both Finance Director Chris Kampa and I will be available to meet with groups in the community to share information and to answer questions. Please call our office at 763-689-6202 to schedule a meeting. We will also be hosting a virtual meeting on Wednesday, September 16 at 6:30 p.m. Visit our website www.c-ischools.org/referendum for details.

As we reflect on the last year for Cambridge-Isanti Schools, it’s been a year of growth and community support. We started the year with the excitement of homecoming and large community gatherings to celebrate our schools and community. Throughout the year we faced the challenges of the pandemic, distance learning, and redesigning how we do school. We did so with an outstanding team of committed educators and staff members. We faced a challenging budget situation and with your approval, we will have a responsible financial plan moving forward. We celebrated the Class of 2020, through a whole community effort, that turned out to be one of the most personalized graduations in school history. Now we’re asking our community to come together once again in support of future generations of Bluejackets. It is an honor and privilege to serve our community and partner with you to continue our strong tradition of excellence. Go Big Blue!


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