STMA sees mixed results from equity legislation

STMAknightby Aaron Brom

SUN PRESS Newspapers


The St. Michael-Albertville School Board heard that referendum and location equity legislation mostly does not affect STMA but will result in some taxpayer savings.

Supt. Jim Behle updated the board about the fiscal year 2015 referendum and location equity legislation.

He said there were two changes. The first was legislation to allow school boards to set $300 per pupil of referendum revenue for board approval, rather than voter approval. Current law requires a school district’s voters to approve per pupil referendum dollars. For example, STMA voters approved a 10-year operating levy, increasing the amount of money the district would have otherwise been allocated in the state’s funding formula. So STMA’s levy is $695 per pupil and will be in effect for nine more years.

Other districts struggle to get voter approval, meaning they must make dramatic cuts to meet their budgets. With the new law, even a district with no voter-approved referendum dollars can add $300 per pupil unit by school board approval and not voter approval.

“Our voters approved (referendum dollars) for nine more years, so there really is no reason to make $300 of that board approved,” Behle later said. “It really benefits those who don’t have voter-approved referendums. Those boards can now approve up to $300 of new money without going to voters.”

The law limits the $300 amount to five years, but since STMA’s levy is for nine more years, “There’s no reason for us to change our voter-approved referendum,” Behle said.

The second change in law pertains to location equity revenue, essentially adding more revenue to metro area school districts where it costs more to educate a student than in outer state districts. This legislation also affects school districts with enrollment above 2,000 students, such as STMA. Because the location equity part is tied to school districts in the seven-county metro area, STMA doesn’t qualify for that piece (Wright County not in the seven-county metro) but does qualify for enrollment above 2,000 students.

The legislation qualifies metro districts for $424 per pupil aid without voter approval. The amount is $212 for districts like STMA and Monticello that have enrollment above 2,000 but are not in the seven-county metro.

Behle cautioned the board that districts will automatically receive this funding unless the school board takes action to opt out.

“Districts should use great caution in opting out because it could reduce the equity revenue and increases property taxes,” he wrote in his presentation to the board.

His recommendations, which the board approved, are:

• Maintain referendum as voter approved. No benefit to total revenue, state aid or tax levy if convert $300 per pupil from voter-approved to board-approved.

• Do not opt out of location equity revenue because it will reduce revenue by $64,233.

• No action required on referendum and location equity by school board.

In fact, Behle said, the location equity might hurt STMA in the future because it will make the equity gap “wider than it currently is now for districts like ourselves.”

Behle did say there was one positive result of the new legislation. He said the state would greater equalize its share of the first $300 in operating levy dollars. In the past the state picked up 49 cents of every dollar up to $300. With the new law it will pick up 75 cents, meaning taxpayers only pay 25 cents, and equating to more taxpayer-saved dollars.