By Olivia Alveshere
Anoka-Hennepin School Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann called the 2017 legislative session “one of the best” he can recall.
Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators in the House and Senate might not see it that way as they are currently embroiled in a lawsuit, a result of the session’s dramatic conclusion.
Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, sued Dayton, a Democrat, after he line-item vetoed the $130 million budgeted to fund the House and Senate in an effort to remove five provisions he disagrees with in budget bills, including one about teacher licensing in the E-12 education bill.
Daudt and Gazelka have said that Dayton’s veto was unconstitutional, disturbing the balance of power between the government’s three branches.
Ramsey County Chief Judge John Guthmann heard arguments June 26, and Anoka-Hennepin Executive Director of Community and Government Relations Steve Kerr and lobbyist Lori Grivna presented good news to the Anoka-Hennepin School Board that same evening.
“It’s so good when it’s over,” Kerr said.
Grivna recapped what she described as a “polarizing session.”
Perhaps the biggest victory for Anoka-Hennepin was achieving permanent renewal of compensatory education pilot grant dollars, $3.2 million annually.
In the past, the district has had to fight tooth and nail for the money each biennium.
This year, “we had hearings in both the House and the Senate, and the school district provided great testimony,” Grivna said.
With support from Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and many other legislators, a bill to make dollars permanent finally went through.
The district has had such permanency as a legislative priority for a decade, Kerr said.
“It’s something that we pursued for a long time, and we got it,” Heidemann said. “I can’t tell you how huge that is for Anoka-Hennepin.”
More money on the general education formula is something Anoka-Hennepin always pushes, and though districts across the state did not see the 3 percent increase each year the district wanted, 2 percent each year was an improvement from initial targets released by the House and Senate.
“We’re going to be able to get by and make it work,” Heidemann said.
A 2 percent increase equates to $121 per adjusted pupil unit in fiscal year 2018, $6,188 per APU total. Anoka-Hennepin will see $5 million more in revenue with this change and growing enrollment.
No money went to reduce special education cross-subsidies, which would have helped offset a deficit of $511,046.
Fund balance will cover the deficit so that no cuts are necessary.
Looking ahead, “we know that these are very challenging times for school districts,” Grivna said. Budget forecasts have been declining, which means “declining opportunities for next session.”
At his final School Board meeting before retirement, Kerr thanked administrators and the board for their strong presence at the Capitol.
“The reason we’re doing it is for the kids,” he said.