Integration tech levy denied

Education department tells Osseo Area Schools it will have to look elsewhere for technology funding

Osseo Area Schools will not be able to levy a $1.5 million integration technology levy next year as the school board had hoped.

In January district staff recommended the board seek authority from the Minnesota Department of Education to collect $1.5 million in the form of an integration levy from taxpayers for technology beginning in 2014 in order to increase equality across the district.

The levy would not have required voter approval, but the district had said taxpayers wouldn’t shoulder an increase in what they paid under a plan to offset the levy by shifting revenue streams from another area.

As Sun Newspapers reported in March, technology resources continue to vary widely from school to school, despite the district’s adoption of minimum classroom technology standards in 2010. The technology levy was intended to help the district make progress toward more evenly distributing those resources across all campuses.

The district believed it was eligible for the levy because it receives integration revenue based on the percentage of students of color in the district.

In order to add the levy, the district expected it would have to update the integration plan it submits to the Minnesota Department of Education and receive approval. The updated version would have to include a plan for “equal access to technology for integration.”

The district discovered prior to submitting a revised plan that the Minnesota Department of Education would not approve the levy.

“They’re not allowing any more districts to apply to access the integration technology levy,” said Osseo Area Schools Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf.

She said districts that were approved for the levy in the past – Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester – will be grandfathered in.

Riesgraf said the change was related to the changes in state education funding. Integration revenue was scheduled to expire after this year, and the Legislature must determine if it wishes to reallocate the money.

In the past, integration revenue has included state aid and local levy authority. The governor’s proposed budget suggested continuing integration aid but discontinuing integration levies. The House and Senate are considering separate proposals that would also continue integration aid, but it’s unclear if integration levies will be part of the final bill that reaches the governor’s desk.

Riesgraf said Osseo Area Schools won’t give up trying to find money to make technology distribution more equitable across the district.

“We’ll continue to seek to go after tools that are available to use to be able to fund what we need for our students,” she said.

This fall, the district is asking voters to approve a technology levy that would raise $5 million a year for 10 years, as well as an operating levy increase of about $9 million.