Great Testimony Provided by SEE Members. It was a cavalcade of SEE members testifying in the Senate Education Finance Committee this morning on a number of different bills. Three SEE members testified in favor of Senator Wiger's SF 2394, a bill that would increase the amount of referendum equalized and also increase the rate of equalization. Superintendents Mark Bezek and Dave Webb of Elk River and South St. Paul respectively and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Director of Finance Jeff Solomon all gave insightful testimony outlining how low property wealth puts their taxpayers at a disadvantage when it comes to raising revenue through voter-approved referenda. While these superintendents--along with North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale superintendent Christine Osorio who also testified--all work in metropolitan area districts, it should be pointed out that there is as much property wealth disparity in the metropolitan area as in the state as a whole. The distribution of the benefit under the bill mostly falls in the metropolitan area and that is largely because referendum levels are higher in the metropolitan area. A number of outstate regional centers and small school districts that have extremely high referenda would also benefit from the proposed increase. I pointed this out in my testimony (of course, I testified). Throughout the session, I have pointed out to legislators that a combination of SF 2394 and SF 2712 could deliver a balanced property tax relief package that would address both the metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of the state and have the double bonus of making the education system more fair in the long run. I remain optimistic that something can be done on this issue.
Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Superintendent Jane Berenz testified along with South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus in favor of Senator Hoffman's SF 2329 to make the compensatory education revenue pilots permanent. These pilots have provided the participating districts with resources they need to help meet the challenge of being in a large district where the buildings don't reach the concentration levels necessary to generate significant per pupil amounts of compensatory revenue. The whole compensatory formula probably deserves a fresh look and the whole array of categorical revenue formulas could stand some scrutiny as well, but that discussion needs to start somewhere, so it may as well start with bills like SF 2329.
Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker also testified today. The bill he promoted was SF 2861, Senator Jensen's bill that would fund a teacher on special assignment and graduate teaching fellowship program. The proposed appropriation is $300,000.
More testifying tomorrow, as Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231 will be heard. That bill indexes the debt service equalization program to inflation, which would protect the property tax relief delivered through the program from being eroded through property wealth growth. This is another bill that SEE supports with vigor and I will be lending the organization's support to the effort along with Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mark Matuska and Pine Island Superintendent Tammy Berg-Beniak.