STMA to consider legal action against state in plight for funding equity

New Dist. 30B State Rep. David FitzSimmons (R-Albertville) listens attentively as STMA Supt. Jim Behle outlines the governor’s Education Finance Task Force recommendations. Behle said the recommendations continue to shorthand school districts like STMA at the bottom of the funding formula. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom.)

New Dist. 30B State Rep. David FitzSimmons (R-Albertville) listens attentively as STMA Supt. Jim Behle outlines the governor’s Education Finance Task Force recommendations. Behle said the recommendations continue to shorthand school districts like STMA at the bottom of the funding formula. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom.)

The St. Michael-Albertville School Board directed staff to look into a possible legal action against the state as a response to the governor’s budget that STMA says continues an uneven spread of educational funding.

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET

With new Dist. 30B State Rep. David FitzSimmons (R-Albertville) in attendance, Supt. Behle provided an analysis of the governor’s Education Finance Task Force that proposes changes to K-12 funding.

School board chairperson Doug Birk summarized the proposal: “School districts across the state would get an (educational funding) increase,” he said. “But in fact STMA would see a wider spread than we have now.”

For example, the proposed per pupil increases that affect teaching and learning would go up $333 for STMA, whereas the property rich Hopkins school district would see a $480 per pupil increase. “It didn’t help the vast majority of districts,” Birk said. “Hopkins would end up with more money even though they’re property rich. It benefits districts that already have a great deal of property wealth.”

If all the Governor’s Education Finance Task recommendations were implemented, STMA would receive $499 more per pupil unit, whereas North Branch, for example, would see a $1,012 increase, a fact that does not sit well with board member Jeff Lindquist.

“So this supports North Branch that has repeatedly voted against levies, and punishes us who have (supported levies),” he said. “I don’t understand the logic.”

Rep. FitzSimmons conceded that “the funding formula may do a lot of things but it doesn’t equalize” school funding. He promised to continue working with the district, and Birk commended the new legislator for making it a priority.

Birk urged taking action on the matter and to raise awareness at the state level. He said the “main thrust” is about funding equity, and urged FitzSimmons to make it clear that STMA strongly opposes the governor’s proposal.

“This just allows us to sink deeper in the quicksand,” Birk said.

FitzSimmons said one proposal is to put a percentage cap between districts receiving higher amounts versus those receiving lower amounts. Birk said STMA needs to identify two or three counter-legislative bills to introduce to the house, such as a bill for a percentage cap. FitzSimmons urged STMA to come up with bill ideas in February that he could introduce to the legislature.

Birk then opened some related topics for discussion, such as whether the district should continue membership in the Minnesota School Boards Association, since the association represents districts at the top and bottom of the funding average.

“(MSBA) is not a voice for the equity issue,” he said. “Half the schools benefit, half don’t, but they represent all the districts.”

While the board saw Birk’s point, most members felt the benefits of belonging to the association outweigh the one issue of funding inequity. But board member Gayle Weber stressed, “We need the MSBA to know our plight. They’ve got to understand they have an obligation to us.”

Board member Carol Steffens added, “We need to get the message out there so people can ask for change.”

The board also agreed that it would continue its membership in the Schools for Educational Equity (SEE) group that represents schools like STMA at the bottom of the state funding levels.

The board then discussed taking potential legal action against the state, and enquired if legal costs could be spread across several districts.

“Let’s get a sense of the (legal) costs,” Birk said. “This is the most significant issue to the long-term future we’re facing, and we need to get awareness of this issue. It may be after we get that information that it’s not an avenue we want to take.”

Supt. Behle was directed to “investigate as much as possible” legal action and to return to the board at its next meeting.

 

Contact Aaron Brom at aaron.brom@ecm-inc.com

 
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