STMA: State formula ‘better than we thought’

Property taxpayers should pay less

STMAknightThe St. Michael-Albertville School Board heard some positive news regarding the 2013 legislative update, namely that the state’s basic funding formula would increase.

But a long-sought after goal of fixing per pupil revenue equity will have to wait until another year.



Supt. Jim Behle updated the board about education funding completed during the recent legislative session. The basic formula increased 1.5 percent.

“That equates to $78 (more) per student for this coming year and $80 for next year,” Behle later said. “That’s better than we thought. Overall the legislature and governor made education a high priority and as a result increased funding for schools.”

The superintendent said much of the increase would go to fund all-day, everyday kindergarten in 2014/15.

He said there are some changes the district is still trying to learn concerning where the school board can make a referendum change. For example, as a result of new legislation, the board can now approve $300 out of the district’s existing $690 per pupil unit, versus voter approval.

“By doing that, it’s a 50 percent increase in equalization, with the state picking up more of the cost as opposed to property taxpayers,” Behle said. “Of that $690, more than $300 will be picked up by the state.”

He said the district has not seen any financial estimates about how to calculate the savings.

“Basically the story is the taxpayer will see some property tax relief,” Behle said, “which was one of our legislative priorities … for the state to pick up a bigger share of the tax burden.”

The superintendent also told the board that school districts will get more dollars for special education.

Other changes include:

• $4 per pupil for a safe schools levy, which can be used for any project related to safety and security, such as school resource officers and repairs to fire suppression systems

• Some additional money for career and technical education

• Some additional money for student achievement levy

• School aid shift -— any state budget surplus that occurs this year or next budget year will go to pay back schools after the legislature delayed payment as a way to balance the budget (“We’re almost there, the legislature is paying it back much quicker than anybody anticipated,” Behle said.)

• Compulsory attendance law changed from age 16 to 17, meaning a student can’t drop out until they’re 17

• Grad exams required for seniors to get a diploma was replaced with a national college entrance exam

• Changed teacher evaluation requirements to a value added model, meaning reduced costs for school districts

“We wanted property tax equalization, kindergarten funding, and a more than 1 percent increase in the per pupil formula,” Behle said. “We got that, but the most significant piece we didn’t see was to reduce the inequity in per pupil revenue. We will have to continue to work on that in future legislation.”



In other news, the board continued discussion about a wireless infrastructure and mobile device pilot plan.

A committee was tasked with working on the next steps in technology, such as what type of wireless system and types of devices the district would allow. Presently, only the district’s newest schools — the high school and Fieldstone Elementary School — have wireless infrastructure.

“We talked about allowing students to bring their own devices, tablets and phones, where you can use as educational tools,” Supt. Behle said.

Ultimately board members Doug Birk, Drew Scherber, Gayle Weber, Jeanne Holand, Carol Steffens and Jeff Lindquist agreed to a small pilot program at four classrooms at the middle schools where students can bring their own device.

“Then we’ll come back to the board with results and that will be good information on how to go forward,” Behle said. “We’ll look at tablet devices in special education programs and classrooms and see if that might improve learning. We’re trying to decide what program will work for our school that is affordable as well as improve learning.”

At the next board meeting, the board is expected to discuss instructional uses for wireless devices.

“We’ll look at our policies on what should we allow students to use in our classrooms,” Behle said. In other action at the meeting, the board:

APPROVED a “two-plus-two” contract for Don’s Bus Company, the district’s transportation provider. That means the contract is good for two years plus an option to renew for an additional two years.