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).

 

Worthington’s Mayor Defends His City  

The prior post discussed controversies surrounding Worthington, Minnesota in the southwest corner of the State. Now we thank the city’s Mayor, Mike Kuhle, for his robust defense of the city. Here are his main points.[1]

“Worthington’s immigration benefits far, far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. The ‘bus driver’ article [in the Washington Post], as it has become known, does not fairly represent the effects of immigration on our community.”

“Since the early 2000s, we have grown from a town of 10,000 mostly Caucasian residents to a population of more than 13,000. While most communities outside of the metropolitan areas have struggled to grow or even maintain populations, Worthington is moving ahead, in a variety of ways.

“Economic development”

“Worthington has 47 minority-owned small businesses that contribute to our tax base and provide jobs for our community. They pay real estate taxes either directly or through the rent they pay to landlords. The wages these businesses pay reverberate throughout our entire community. Our main street for the most part is filled with tenants and is thriving. I have been through communities that have main streets with a lot of vacant buildings. Not Worthington.”

“The JBS pork processing plant has grown because of the available workforce in our community. Its economic impact on our community and surrounding area is around $100 million in the form of wages, real estate taxes, sales taxes and hogs purchased from farmers within 100 miles of Worthington. Approximately 24,000 hogs are processed each day, from which the farmers benefit financially. The crops they grow that are turned into feed help to increase the value of their products. The hog facilities needed to grow the animals to meet the demand of JBS are an important source of income as well.”

“The ag bioscience/animal vaccine sector is thriving in Worthington as well.”

“Immigration has helped to provide badly needed employees for these businesses and the surrounding area. The farming community has benefited from the availability of immigrant workers. Without immigrants moving to Worthington, we would likely be a community in decline.”

Cultural diversity

“Worthington has about 12 different cultures represented, from Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America. Our dining options are among the best in our region. Diversity is a good thing for our community and surrounding area, much as it was back in the early 1900s. Back then, the influx of immigrants mostly from Europe helped our community and the entire nation grow and prosper. Change and growth are a good thing.”

Public safety”

“We ranked as the third-safest city in the state of Minnesota in 2019 thanks to our police officers and Public Safety Director Troy Appel, who have reached out to the different ethnic groups and gained trust and relationships. They get involved with the community.”

Need for federal government solutions

“We need sensible solutions to the whole issue of immigration from the federal government, Congress and the president. Immigrants are vital to communities such as Worthington, as they provide employees and benefit us culturally.”

We “really need a better and faster pathway to citizenship. Some immigrants do not have a pathway to citizenship and are then forced into illegal status. An improved immigration system is vital to the future of Worthington and other communities.”

“In the end. immigrants just want a chance for a better life, and the children want to be united with their families. Worthington needs employees to grow and prosper.”

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[1]  Kuhle, Counterpoint: In Worthington, where I’m mayor, immigrants help us grow, thrive, StarTribune (Oct. 2, 2019).