8/15/2013 3:41:00 PM School Board intends to levy
using new authority from state; two members opposed
by DENISE MARTIN
North Branch School Board had five of six members for last week’s Board meeting, and the vote was 3-2 embracing the new levy authority granted to school boards by the state legislature. The action was needed to meet a deadline to inform the MN Dept. of Education of the intent to collect an additional $300 per pupil unit in property tax next year-- but the actual vote to certify the tax comes later. (Linda Heidelberger was absent.) Board Chair Kim Salo couldn’t believe this was even a debate. She said boards have been telling the state for years the state funding formula is inequitable and while this new local levy power “is not the perfect solution” the need in North Branch still exists. Salo stressed the new legislation also revises funding formulas bringing in more state aid to fill out the levy. The last time North Branch had a ballot question for a levy, the local taxpayers would have had to cover 80 percent. The district taxpayer under the new formula will chip in 53 percent. Salo said if this had been the financing structure for the last referendum she’s certain voters would have approved (more total money at less local cost.) “We have a duty to do this, to educate our kids to the best of our ability,” she declared.
Board member Randy Westby explained that he opposes the authority because it is the wrong “vehicle” to boost the district’s finances. Westby feels state lawmakers “failed to do their jobs” passing a “bad piece of legislation” in telling School Boards they can levy without a referendum vote. Westby said he’s been hearing from citizens in the district opposed to the board using this authority. Jay Falk, who also voted no on the motion by Tim McMillan to inform the state of the intention to levy, said “Just because the state gives us this doesn’t mean we have to use it.” Board member Kirby Ekstrom argued that cities and counties revise their levies as a matter of common practice. Although this is something new for Minnesota School Boards it is “not out of the norm” considering the way our system functions, he observed. Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton advised the Board to be consistent. Voting to inform the state it will use the authority-- but later should Board members not approve the actual levy-- would be a huge disservice. Supt. Henton said she hears that people want to know if an end to the four-day week is near. “You owe it to staff and our families to be up front” in this decision and in following through, she said.
The additional funding would mean North Branch’s no-Monday schedule, which was enacted for cost-savings, will end after this school year. North Branch estimates $1.8 million under this new authority to locally generate $300 per pupil unit, which is about $250,000 more than what the last failed referendum levy would have generated. Along with the local levy power, the state created “location equity” and new levy support adding $682,852 and $157,680 respectively to the annual funding formula-- if the local levy is enacted. The annual cost to a $100,000 valuation residence will be about $5 less than what voters rejected for a levy in 2011 but the total collected much greater. ($75.58 compared to $80.24) For a residence valuation of $166,000 the levy is $125.46 annually versus paying $133.20 proposed in the failed ballot question in 2011.
Board enactment of the levy comes in December. In other matters Henton said community athletic association members and other youth activities boosters have a meeting scheduled later this month to talk with district officials about issues raised at the last Board meeting.(Press story July 18.)
~ Board members met David Treichel, who succeeds Dr. Zimmerman as Director of Curriculum and Learning. He comes from the Anoka-Hennepin District bringing years of experience in staff development,etc., and is especially knowledgeable integrating technology into learning. Zimmerman is the new principal at Sunrise River Elementary School following Jason Hartmann’s departure to a position in another district.