School News: Shining a light

By Deb Henton, Ed.D.

Superintendent

I recently sent a letter to Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Brenda Casselius asking that urgency be placed on fixing inequities in the K-12 funding formula. The letter can be read at my blog, Supe of the Day (http://supeoftheday.blogspot.com/).

The current formula is flawed and has created haves and have-nots, with districts like ours suffering as a result. The funding formula, and lack of meaningful increases, is the reason we have been cutting since 2003-04. In a different way, it is also a reason why levies are difficult to pass in our community.

The equalization factor, put in place in the 1990s, was designed to level the playing field between wealthy districts and those less fortunate. As property values skyrocketed the equalization factor stayed the same for over a decade; no longer a fair benchmark. As a result, North Branch Area Public Schools (NBAPS) qualifies for far less in equalization funding than it did originally.

Less equalization funding, coupled with a stressed tax base, means that levies here cost taxpayers much more than in other districts. For instance, if NBAPS were to pass a levy at the maximum amount per pupil ($1,605), it would cost each taxpayer $407 annually for every $100,000 in property value. The same levy in Orono would cost taxpayers $125.

To put our situation plainly, I use the analogy of purchasing gas. When NBAPS’s residents pull in to the station, they are instructed to use pumps charging $4.07 a gallon, while Orono is allowed to pay only $1.25 a gallon. When you consider that the state constitution calls for a “uniform” system of public education, one can only conclude that the system is deeply flawed.

The result for us is year-round frustration as the district moves back and forth from cutting budgets each spring to asking for levy dollars each fall.

The only thing we can do at this time is to keep shining as bright a light on the situation as possible. Talk to your legislators and write letters to MDE and your representatives; let them know we deserve better.

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