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Tracy Briggs, Published October 13 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Approve Moorhead referendum on Nov. 3

Last year, I volunteered to be a parent-helper for my daughter’s first-grade holiday party. All of us were given specific duties. For me, it was helping the students make reindeer food, which basically meant pouring oatmeal, sugar and some kind of glitter into Ziploc bags.

I’ve always wondered if the school custodian forgave us for that project. Of course, we had fun. But upon leaving that day I did what I always do after helping at school: marvel at the ability of the teacher to handle the kids day after day.

This was a big class with 26 kids. And she seemed to have them under control. Weaker women would have buckled under the pressure. For her sake and the sake of all of the teachers in Moorhead, I hope these classes don’t get much bigger.

When I started writing for The Forum’s Parenting Perspectives, I never envisioned it being a column where I would endorse one thing or another. Instead, I’ve enjoyed the therapeutic purpose of writing down the crazy things my daughters do every day. But I feel compelled this month to jump out of the Erma Bombeck mode and jump into the debate over the proposed Moorhead operating levy referendum.

On Nov. 3, Moorhead residents will decide via a vote whether to approve the levy referendum that would provide $850 per pupil in additional funds for the next seven years. The money would be used to improve and preserve class sizes, to maintain and implement programs in such areas as science, math and the arts, and to enhance and expand student use of technology.

It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about 51 cents a day. I won’t bore you with statistics. You can go to the Moorhead Public Schools Web site to learn more.

I’ve spoken to a couple of people opposed to the idea. And I understand where they’re coming from. It’s a tough pill to swallow to raise taxes in these economic times. They say if money is a problem, the district just needs to tighten its collective belt a little. But the district has already cut expenditures by $4.5 million, laid off dozens of employees and raised fees. It’s still not enough.

It’s also easy to understand why some empty-nesters in town might be hesitant to vote “yes.” Why should they be responsible for forking over more of their money for a school system that doesn’t serve them? But I would hope they would take a second look at this as more than simply a school funding issue.

You might have heard the saying, “As goes the school so goes the community.” With quality schools come higher property values, vibrant cities and a better-educated work force. Young families moving into Fargo-Moorhead make decisions about where to buy a home based upon several factors, including schools. I know one family who moved here in the past few months. They chose the North Dakota side of the river because of concerns about cuts in Moorhead schools.

Another family we’ve known for a few years went the other way. The mom recently told me that when they moved here from the East Coast, they specifically looked at the public schools in all of the surrounding cities to help determine where they would live. And while they found all of the area’s public schools excellent, they chose Moorhead because they liked Minnesota’s track record with education.

And Minnesota still should be proud of that record. The state has the highest average composite ACT score in the nation. And Moorhead scores among the highest in the state. Minnesota students score in the top three in standardized fourth- and eighth-grade math testing and boast a 90 percent high school graduation rate.

Not only does Moorhead excel academically, but in extracurricular areas as well. We’ve watched the high school theater department receive international attention, seen an influx of middle schoolers interested in orchestra and others participate in one of the state’s strongest youth sports programs.

We are incredibly lucky in the Fargo-Moorhead area to have outstanding public school systems on both sides of the river. It would be easy to coast and say, “Our students are doing fine. We don’t need to invest any more in this school system.” But as a parent, I can’t think of a better way to spend my money.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and a personality for WDAY AM 970.