Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two-Fer Tuesday. I managed to take in two hearings at the Legislature today and both were interesting. The Senate E-12 Funding Division heard SF 2331 (Fobbe-DFL-Princeton) this morning. This bill was drafted by the Elk River School District and its Legislative Action Committee. Under the bill's provisions, any district that meets the following four requirements is eligible to receive $500 per pupil: (1) an increase in average daily membership of more than 4% between the 2001 and 2009 fiscal years, (2) a total increase in students of more than 2,900 over the same period, (3) having more than 50 percent of its tax levy dedicated to debt service, and (4) having a total tax rate in excess of 40 percent of its tax capacity. Only one district meets these criteria and that is Elk River.

I heard from several folks regarding the bill wondering if the bill had any chance of passing and what Elk River was thinking in drafting and introducing the bill. This bill, as is the case with any bill that requires a state appropriation, faces a steep challenge. As for the reasoning, like many SEE districts (especially those that are growing steadily), Elk River has a heavy debt service load and this load has become heavier as the value of the debt service equalization program has dwindled. The heavy burden borne by taxpayers in districts with high debt service effort often prevents these districts from generating considerable levels of revenue through the referendum levy. In fact, districts with high debt service effort are among the most tax-sensitive districts in the state.

SF 2331 helps make this case very clearly and the witnesses from Elk River were able to make that point in their testimony today. Further, the bill really got the committee engaged in discussing how property wealth disparities cause considerable differences in revenue. So, even though Elk River is not a SEE member, the bill they introduced produced some of the best discussion of SEE issues thus far in the session. Given the condition of the state budget, it is highly unlikely that state resources will exist to make considerable progress on equity issues this session, but that shouldn't stop any district or organization concerned about funding equity to take its foot of the pedal.

The House K-12 Funding Division heard Representatives Marsha Swails' (DFL-Woodbury) and Carol McFarlane's (R-White Bear Lake) HF 2840, this year's bill that is trying to create an environment that would encourage greater cooperation and shared services between units of government. Like last year's approach in the House, there is nothing mandatory forced on school districts in this bill. Unlike last year's bill, this bill creates a task force that represents a number of governmental units (both the labor and management sides) that will look at opportunities for greater shared services and the impediments to cooperation that currently exist.

The Senate will likely be discussing similar legislation as the session wears on and while it may not contain the mandated approach advocated last session, it will be likely different than the House version. Stay tuned.

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