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Operating Referendum for More Funding Nov 3

Learn more about the Operating Referendum

September 16, 2020 Virtual Meeting on Facebook Live
6:30 - 7:00 p.m.

Join a Live Virtual Meeting and Q&A session with Superintendent Rudolph and Director Kampa

At its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 20, the Cambridge-Isanti School Board unanimously adopted a resolution placing an operating referendum on the ballot for November 3, 2020.

After reducing expenses by $7.5 million over the last two years, district officials were encouraged by parents and community members to put a referendum question this year's November ballot. Voter approval of an operating referendum is the district’s only option for avoiding a third consecutive year of budget reductions and lay-offs. If additional funding is not approved, the district will need to reduce programs and services by another $1.7 million next year. 

This summer the district surveyed the community about strategic priorities for the future. Priorities include: Safely reopening schools, strategically reducing class sizes, expanding career-tech and apprenticeships, securing adequate funding, and ensuring a long-term financial strategy.

What does the future hold for our youngest learners?

Throughout the past 150 years, our schools have contributed to the vitality of our community and have been an important part of what makes this a great place to raise a family. In fact, a large percent of our alumni return to this community to raise their families.

“The question before us is whether future generations of Bluejackets will be afforded the same high-quality education that previous generations have received,” Superintendent Rudolph stated during his presentation to the School Board.

A recent survey of district residents found that 63% of residents would support increased funding to reduce class sizes, improve career tech programs, increase school cleaning, enhance science, technology, engineering and math courses, and address youth mental health needs. The survey was conducted in late July by an independent research firm, Morris Leatherman Company.

The proposed referendum would cost the average homeowner $25 per month in 2021-2023 — less than $1 per day — and an additional $15 per month beginning in 2024-2030. This two-step referendum is a fiscally conservative strategy that asks for what is needed when it is needed.

Why is a referendum needed?

Cambridge-Isanti Schools are among the lowest funded in Minnesota, ranking 304/330 districts. The district receives $1,200 less per student than the average Minnesota school district, which equals $6.1 million or 10% of its annual budget. Even among neighboring districts, Cambridge-Isanti Schools ranks last in per-student funding behind Becker, Big Lake, Chisago Lakes, Monticello, North Branch, Princeton, and St. Francis.

If the community approves a local referendum, the district will qualify for additional state funding of $103 per student in equalization aid as well.

Why is funding so low compared to other districts?

In Minnesota, school funding is a combination of three sources: local, state and federal funding.

Two-thirds of Minnesota districts rely on a local operating referendum for funding, and statewide local operating referenda account for 20% of all education funding. So, without a locally approved operating referendum, C-I Schools receive less funding than other districts.

“What I think people will be most surprised about, is the disparity in how Minnesota schools are funded,” stated Finance Director Chris Kampa. “You think that all school districts receive the same amount per student, but they don’t.”

The state basic aid of $6,438 is the same, but that accounts for only 54% of all school funding. There are five funding categories for which other school districts receive more funds: Operating referendum, Q-comp/alternative teacher compensation, compensatory aid, achievement and integration revenue, and technology/capital projects referendum. [learn more about school funding].  

What has the district done to control costs?

Less funding means larger class sizes, fewer opportunities for students to maintain a competitive edge. If Cambridge-Isanti plans to remain competitive and ensure its students are well prepared for the workforce and college, additional funding is needed. 

Over the last two years, the district has reduced expenses by $7.5 Million (on a $60 million budget) and eliminated 90 jobs. Budget reductions have resulted in:

  • Teacher layoffs and increased class sizes
  • Reduced cleaning and custodial staff time (to an every-other-day rotation).
  • Reductions in administration and delayed curriculum updates
  • Eliminated innovation, instructional coaches and instructional assistant positions
  • Layoffs for community education
  • Increased student fees for activities

The decision to go to referendum has been thoughtful, and the district considers this action a last resort and essential to maintaining quality schools.

What is an operating referendum?

An operating referendum is a vote of residents to increase the district’s levy for learning; it would provide funding for day-to-day operations of the district, such as teachers and staff, class sizes, technology, supplies, utilities, curriculum, transportation, and co-curricular activities. An operating referendum is different from a bond referendum, which funds buildings and capital projects. There are no buildings proposed in this question.

How to vote

The operating referendum will be placed on the November 3 General Election ballot with other state and federal offices. Early/Absentee Voting begins September 18. Isanti and Chisago Counties administer the elections. Visit the Secretary of State website to find your polling location.

To learn more

Visit the referendum website for the most in-depth information. Additional virtual meetings will be scheduled after school begins. If you would like to schedule a neighborhood or service organization presentation, we are happy to make staff available. Please schedule through the Superintendent’s Office at 763-689-6201 or email

If you have questions, please email