Voters Approve  School Bond Referenda in Worthington, Minnesota  

On November 5, the voters  in the Independent School District of Worthington, Minnesota approved, 1,780 to 1,644, a $ 33.7 million school bonding proposal to construct a new intermediate school with additional $5 million funding from the District’s general fund. The voters also approved, 1,760 to 1,662, the district’s proposal to refinance $14 million in debt so that agriculture property becomes eligible for tax credit.[1]

This outcome was attributable, in part, to a get-out-the-vote effort led by a local group, Seeds of Change. It mobilized “immigrant families, whose children sit in the majority of the desks in those crowded schools, . . . door knocking, phone banking, translating ballots into some of the 37 languages their neighbors speak.” One of these volunteers, “Aida Simon, who works several days a week as a translator at the crowded middle school her children attend, . . . said the election result made her feel like she belonged in Worthington. ‘It felt like this is my town, my community. I’m going nowhere,” she said. “This is where I’m going to raise my kids and I’m going to invest all I have.’”

The District’s Superintendent, John Landgaard, said, he was “thrilled” that the vote will allow the needs of the students and staff to be met. “Supporting our kids is important.” Similar thoughts were voiced by the chairperson of the District’s board, Brad Shaffer. These approvals came after four other bonding proposals had been defeated, 2016-2019.

Background on these schools and bonding proposals was set forth in a lengthy article in the Sunday StarTribune before the voting.[2] It noted, “As recently as 20 years ago, more than three-fourths of Worthington’s residents were white. Today, 60% are people of color, as well as 70% of the students in the school district. Much of the shift stems from the rush of immigrants who arrived here seeking work, many of them finding it at JBS Pork, a slaughterhouse on the edge of town that employs 2,400 workers.”

Although some residents had resisted spending more money on the schools for these newcomers, “Many residents praise the new arrivals, noting the economic and cultural vitality they bring to the city. At least 50 local businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, auto shops and accounting firms, are owned by immigrants. Downtown houses several Mexican restaurants, Asian and Hispanic food markets, and stores selling imported goods. And each day around 4 p.m., after the early shift has let out at JBS, families stream into Panaderia Mi Tierra, a Latino bakery, where they pluck pastries from glass cases.”

“In the downtown, all the storefronts are full and it’s busy,” said Sharon Johnson, a lifelong resident who owns a downtown jewelry store and also serves as director of community education. “The cultures we are exposed to through music and food and art have really made this a wonderful place to live.”

“Bill Keitel owns Buffalo Billfold Co., a leather goods shop, and also owns rental property. “As a landlord, if I didn’t have these immigrants, my property values would plummet — as would everybody’s,” he said. “I look on them as our salvation, not our problem.”

Although many farmers in the school district opposed the bonding, one of them, Matt Widboom, voiced support. He said, ““It’s a lot [of money], but it’s an investment.” The county (Nobles)  and Worthington are among the few places in rural Minnesota that are rapidly growing, and education will be a key to sustaining the growth. “There are two jobs for every person in Nobles County. We don’t have the people to fill the jobs. We need to retain these kids.”

Congratulations to Worthington for welcoming these immigrants. [3]

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[1] Sobotka, All area school referendums approved by voters, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019); Sobotka, UPDATED, District 518 voters approve all three referendum questions, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019).Brooks, After all-out push, students get a ‘yes’ vote on Worthington schools, StarTribune (Nov. 6, 2019); Miller, Minn. town split over immigration agrees on sixth try to expand overcrowded schools, Wash. Post (Nov. 6, 2019.

[2] Reinan, Worthington, Minn., schools a test of immigration policy, StarTribune (Nov. 3, 2019).

[3] See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Worthington’s Mayor Defends His City (Oct. 3, 2019); Immigrants’ Stories from Worthington Minnesota (Oct. 21, 2019).