Potential school equity lawsuit ‘in the study phase’

St. Michael-Albertville Schools belong to a partnership that is studying a potential funding inequity lawsuit against the state, Supt. Jim Behle told the school board.



Supt. Behle updated the board about school finance.

He reminded the board that a meeting with legislative candidates is set for Monday, Oct. 29, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Middle School West to focus on school and city funding issues.

“The key point is that the school funding formula is inequitable,” Behle said in a later interview. “We think it’s not only inequitable but unconstitutional. The (state) constitution requires a uniform education system.”

STMA, for example, receives $6,700 per pupil unit whereas some school districts take in as much as $12,000. The state average is $8,804 per pupil unit.

“Why a big disparity? There are categorical programs that school districts have to qualify for, and we qualify for very few of these,” Behle said. “And it’s a taxation issue. There is very little commercial value in STMA, so the residents pay a disproportionate amount of taxes.”

At $6,700 per pupil unit, STMA ranks in the bottom 2 percent of the state in terms of funding.

STMA and 59 other school districts belong to Schools for Equity in Education (SEE). Behle said SEE is studying potential lawsuits against the state. He said a class action lawsuit is “in the study phase.”

He said the state allows districts to levy up to an additional $1,633 per pupil, and STMA gets $695 (voter approved). If the district levied the maximum $1,633, it would cost the average taxpayer $497 more per year, whereas that same amount in Hopkins, a property rich district, would cost its taxpayers only $153 more per year.

“It would cost our taxpayers three times the amount of Hopkins to get the maximum allowed by law,” Behle said.

He said it is in the legislature’s power to equalize the tax burden, and noted that in 1995 the state contributed 80 cents of ever dollar for a levy, whereas today it’s 46 cents.

“If the legislature wants to address property taxes across the state, it could contribute more state dollars to equalize the tax burden across the state,” he said. “The formula is unfair, and it’s unfair to the property tax payers. Our residents get hit twice, with an inequitable formula, and a heavier burden to taxpayers than other schools.”

Behle’s report was for discussion only, and the board took no action on the matter.




In other matters, the board will review the activities policy at its Monday, Oct. 15, meeting.

It will look at athletics and fine arts related to participation levels. For example, during the next three to four years, district enrollment will increase.

“The board wants to be proactive,” Supt. Behle said. “There will be more students competing for open positions, and there is a cost factor, like to add more B squads. What are the implications? How many students are cut (from teams) now?”

The other item is the fee structure and how fees are determined. The board will look at the cost per participant in sports.

“We’ll look at costs per programs, and if there is ever a threshold where the district says the costs are too much per participant, or participation is too low and a program is cut,” Behle said.

He said staff would be asked to collect information on current practices and revenue.

In other action, the board:

CHANGED the school activities policy to allow four events in May on a Wednesday night: high school scholarships presentation, academic awards night, National Honor Society induction, and middle school Where Everybody Belongs banquet. Present policy prohibits activities Wednesdays after 6 p.m.

REACHED consensus not to change the transportation policy that restricts bus pickups to one pickup and one drop-off point. A parent had requested allowing more than one pickup and drop-off point.