By Denise Dittrich, MSBA Associate Director of Government Relations
Many of our school districts have been following and strongly supporting the School Facilities Financing Working Group recommendations. Sen. Kevin Dahle introduced two bills (SF75 and SF76) that capture Recommendations No. 1 and No. 3 as outlined in this MSBA summary.
The first hearing on these two recommendations was heard Thursday, January 22, in the Senate E-12 Committee. The committee heard a lot of great testimony from school districts and organizations across the state, including MSBA Board Director Linden Olson and MSBA Government Relations Director Grace Keliher.
Keliher expressed concern of splintering off the task force recommendations. Keliher reminded the committee that the core recommendations are “package deal” and should not be fragmented. During the hearing, Sen. Dahle expressed an interest in working with stakeholders to bring forward other task force recommendations.
Olson, a Worthington School Board member, addressed the difficulty in passing referendums for capital projects in rural Minnesota. First, is the recent escalation of agricultural land values — which means the tax burden for bonds falls particularly hard on agriculture landowners. Second, agriculture landowners see this vote as an opportunity to vent frustrations when city, county and other state officials raise taxes without a vote. Third, the current equity funding formulas are not benefitting property-poor school districts as they were intended.
Click on the following link to read Olson’s testimony: LindenOlsonTestimoney1-22-2015
MSBA believes these capital referendums cause division in our rural communities — which is not healthy. Everyone wants to be supportive of safe public schools, but the current outdated funding mechanisms and rising property values for agriculture land make it difficult for all to do so. We strongly urge the Legislature to find a way to pass all the recommendations of the School Facilities Financing Working Group.
SF75 would equalize the capital projects referendum levy. Equalization of this levy is needed to ensure that all districts have equitable access to capital project referendum revenue regardless of local tax base. This proposal would assist lower tax value districts to approval of revenue.
SF 76 would establish a new, equalized long-term facilities maintenance revenue program. It would replace the current alternatives facilities, deferred maintenance, and health and safety revenue programs. Under this proposal, all school districts would be able to access long-term facilities maintenance revenue based on an approved 10-year facilities plan. It would also consolidate funding for health and safety improvements and deferred maintained into a new program, as well as provide an equalization component.