Legislative action ‘very good news for STMA’

St. Michael-Albertville Supt. Jim Behle, right, shows Senate Education Finance Committee Chairperson, Sen. Chuck Wiger (D-North St. Paul), a map of how STMA does not qualify for metro equity revenue, even though census statistical data clearly defines the STMA region as being in the metro. Legislative bills would bring STMA into that metro designation, allowing increased funding. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom)

St. Michael-Albertville Supt. Jim Behle, right, shows Senate Education Finance Committee Chairperson, Sen. Chuck Wiger (D-North St. Paul), a map of how STMA does not qualify for metro equity revenue, even though census statistical data clearly defines the STMA region as being in the metro. Legislative bills would bring STMA into that metro designation, allowing increased funding. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom)

In this day of email, social media and blogging, St. Michael-Albertville officials are hoping that good old fashioned, face-to-face lobbying has helped the school district secure future funding increases.

Less than two days after visiting numerous legislators, pleading its case for fairer funding, Supt. Jim Behle said House and Senate action on education funding “is very good news for STMA.”

That’s because the proposed legislation could add up to more than $600,000 in annual funding for the school district.

A contingency of STMA supporters — including school board members, city councilors, a principal and parents — lobbied their case to both Republicans and Democrats, some of whom represent STMA and others who do not. Some of those others included high-ranking officials like Sen. Chuck Wiger (D-North St. Paul), who is chair of the Senate Education Finance Committee, and Rep. Paul Marquart (D-Dillworth), who is chair of the House Education Finance Committee.

Minnesota Sen. Chuck Wiger (D-North St. Paul) holds one of the Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) signs that urge fair funding for all school districts “no matter the zip code.” Joining the senator are STMA’s lobbying contingency of, left to right, Supt. Jim Behle, former school board member Tom Hagerty, current school board member Jeanne Holland, STMA Middle School West Principal Andy Merfeld, St. Michael city councilors Kevin Kasel and Nadine Schoen, and STMA parent Brian Gerten. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom

Minnesota Sen. Chuck Wiger (D-North St. Paul) holds one of the Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) signs that urge fair funding for all school districts “no matter the zip code.” Joining the senator are STMA’s lobbying contingency of, left to right, Supt. Jim Behle, former school board member Tom Hagerty, current school board member Jeanne Holland, STMA Middle School West Principal Andy Merfeld, St. Michael city councilors Kevin Kasel and Nadine Schoen, and STMA parent Brian Gerten. (Sun staff photo by Aaron Brom

“I just got an email from Sen. Wiger, who said that the metro equity provision was included in one version of the senate bill,” Behle said a couple days after the visit to Wiger.

Behle was referring to one of STMA’s two main lobbying goals: supporting a change in the definition of equity revenue. As it stands, STMA is left out of metro districts that qualify for increased funding, even though the district says that census data clearly indicates St. Michael-Albertville and northeast Wright County as being in the metro area. Including STMA in location equity revenue would add $130,000 per year to the district’s budget. Another proposed equity revenue change would add an additional $130,000.

“We feel good that we made greater awareness of that (metro) definition,” Behle said. “Statistically, it makes sense from a policy perspective.”

But it was the district’s number one lobbying goal that Behle said could really make a difference, and that is support of a House Education Bill proposal that increases the general education formula by an additional 1 percent for the next school year.

The house’s education finance provisions would spend $75 million in fiscal year 2015, placing about $54.5 million, or a 1 percent increase, on the general education funding formula. That would bring STMA another $360,000.

Behle said the senate’s version is lower than $75 million.

“Our two main priorities are both included in the house version,” Behle said. “What will happen next, we’ll see what comes out of the senate and their supplemental bill. The senate side is closer to $45 million, a much lower target.”

If the bill passes through the senate, it would then go to a conference committee. Behle said any additional revenue is good news for STMA and helps the district avoid future cuts.

“What I anticipate happening, there won’t be a 1 percent increase in the general fund, but there will be something,” he said. “Any increase in a non-budget year is very good. It will help avoid future cuts. It may not help avoid all cuts, but it will soften the blow.”

STMA is ranked dead last in the state in general education revenue per pupil, excluding the local referendum. STMA’s contingent at the Capitol was armed with statistics, such as STMA receiving $2,155 less total revenue per student compared to the state average.

STMA said increasing the general education formula would benefit all school districts in the state by decreasing class sizes, supporting programs to close the achievement gap and challenge gifted learners, replacing outdated technology, supporting career and college programs and initiatives, and paying for special education cross subsidy. The district also said it would cover the cost of the anti-bullying bill (Safe and Supportive Schools) and the new teacher evaluation process.

“It’s good to have support from the house and senate in the supplemental appropriations bill,” Behle said. “It’s very encouraging.”

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