By Sam Walseth, MREA Director of Legislative Action
A bill presented at the Senate E-12 Committee meeting on Thursday would fix the facility fallout by phasing in the Alternative Facilities levy authority for the more than 300 districts currently not eligible for it. Existing deferred maintenance and Health and Safety programs and revenues would be phased out as the new levy authority is phased-in.
SF 76 implements recommendation #1 from the School Facility Task Force Report put together by school stakeholders and the Minnesota Department of Education.
Dr. Tom Melcher from the Minnesota Department of Education helped present the task force recommendation and the mechanics of SF 76.
Bill Gains Support
About a dozen individuals and organizations testified in support of the bill. MREA testified that enacting SF 76 was its top priority for the 2015 session as it’s the most significant strategy the state can enact the close a major fiscal inequity between the largest 25 districts encompassing about half of the state’s student body and the other 300 districts and their half of the student body.
Windom Superintendent Wayne Wormstadt testified about the needs of his district and how classroom obligations have been shortchanged by having to address capital needs with general education funds.
School Board member Linden Olson from Worthington also testified about his community’s struggle to address capital needs in a fair manner because agricultural land makes up so much of their tax base. He told the E-12 committee about how one farm family alone was looking at paying upwards of $750,000 over the life of one school bond.
MREA shared the need to address tax base issues as this levy authority is considered. There are about 100 rural districts that wouldn’t see a penny of state equalization, which is proposed to be set at 125 percent of ANTC, because their high valued agricultural land puts them off the charts. View a map illustrating ANTC across the state.
The House GOP majority will entertain the notion of moving all of the school capital levies to a tax base that only taxes the house, garage and one-acre in farm country. That proposal is fraught with problems, but the House Property Tax Chair, Steve Drazkowski (GOP Mazeppa), is holding community meetings around the state to gather feedback from citizens about high levels of property taxes. He just held one in Stewartville where frustration was expressed from farm families.
Rural students haven’t been served well by the division in their communities of the disparate looking tax bases that exist. There’s enough blame to go around, but that’s not going to get us to a proper solution. MREA and others are investigating alternative solutions to make this a more palatable sell to legislators in deep rural areas. The adults in rural Minnesota owe it to their students to find a proper solution to this issue. If they don’t the metro will simply continue to move ahead with their own legislation.