May 11 vote set to fund EPS technology and special education program

Liliana Hanson, page editor

If you’ve driven around Edina recently, chances are you’ve seen at least one lawn sign reading ‘Vote Yes for EPS.’

These signs, and the corresponding ‘Vote Yes Edina’ movement, concern the renewal of a $10 million technology levy and approval for a $7 million bond issue. “This tech levy supports kids and adults and anyone in the district who needs support in the technology side of school,” Edina freshman Bennett Smalley said; he, along with fellow freshman Rhys McVann-Henklemann, became involved in the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign after making a C-Span video for their AP Government class. The tech levy originally passed in 2011 and is set to expire in June of 2021; the renewal is put to a vote among Edina residents. “Because this is a renewal, you’re not going to see a lot of differences because it’s already something we’re doing, [so all the] things around hardware and software and information systems like Schoology, and the infrastructures like cybersecurity,” Karen Gabler, a teacher at Normandale Community College and advocate for the ‘Vote Yes’ movement, said. “We want to help people make an informed decision; 28% of our school budget comes from voter-approved levies.” 

If passed, the levy would authorize roughly a 6% increase in the “net tax capacity” of the district; the impact on Edina homeowners is estimated to be between $15 and $24 per household.  “A levy is typically something that is meant for providing funds for some kind of project. This one was for technology,” McVann-Henkelmann said. “A crucial part of it is getting internet access throughout the school so people can run online learning and making sure people are connected.” 

Especially with fluctuating learning models in the time of COVID-19, the ‘Vote Yes’ movement has focused on technology access in the district. “A big part is providing personal computers, so we’re more prepared if something like [the pandemic] happens again,” Smalley said. “Advocating for kids [without tech access] is super important, especially this year. If you elect to be online, that doesn’t mean you should be getting lower grades, and that doesn’t mean you should have a harder time in school. So this tech levy really encourages equal support in terms of schooling.” In addition to providing personal computers for rental, a significant part of the levy is allocated for staff who provide technical support. 

Along with the levy, included in the vote is a new addition to the budget: a bond issue. The bond would be used to expand the special education bus route, as well as for repairs for parking lots. 

Unlike previous November school board elections, a greater proportion of the Edina High School student body (all those 18 or older) will be able to vote on this levy. Although underclassmen will be unable to vote in the elections, Smalley and McVann-Henkelmann have been heavily involved in the campaign, creating videos and working on outreach. “A large part of the student input was because of the main targeted demographics, because [kids] don’t pay taxes,” McVann-Henkelmann said. “Parents may not know the issues that are important to students if they don’t have children in the district. For me personally, I have a brother with a disability in a wheelchair. He may not have the funding to have accessible spaces. And I strongly believe that virtual learning and in-person learning should be [of] the same caliber; I don’t think it should vary because everyone deserves to get the same education, and without the technology [levy], it would be a lot harder to do that.” 

The vote on both the technology levy and bond issue will take place on May 11, 2021.