Henton: ‘All politics is local’ could not be more true right now

Deb Henton

Deb Henton

If you were paying $10 for the same gallon of milk that sold for $3 in the Twin Cities, you would probably not be happy about it. Who would? There is no reason milk should cost more than three times more here than it does 50 miles away.

Yet, that is exactly the situation we are dealing with when it comes to the current property-tax system as it pertains to levies. The same levy in two different school districts affects taxpayers in drastically different ways. In our school district, the cost of an operating levy to each taxpayer is far higher than in many communities.

This is not the first time the state has been in this situation. It is similar in many ways to a situation in the 1980s. A 1991 lawsuit (the Skeen lawsuit) forced the court system to acknowledge the disparity, and “equalization” was created to address it. As a result, the funding gap — at 35 percent at the time of the lawsuit — shrunk to 19 percent over the years following the lawsuit. That disparity has crept back to 31 percent due to the erosion of equalization, resulting in less state levy revenue in low property wealth districts like ours.

Right now the maximum levy is $1,633 per pupil. The annual cost to taxpayers per $100,000 of property value in a wealthy district is $151. In a low property wealth district like ours, it is more like $450.

If we were talking about something easy to quantify and immediate, like milk, we would have no problem making change. People would demand it. But school funding is such that the effects are not immediate and change is harder to come by.

Nevertheless, the time for change is now. Access to education is broader than ever before, competition to attract students fierce. The broken formula leads our students to districts with greener grass, which compounds the problem for the rest of us.

Contact your representatives and let them know that our community is hurt by these inequities and demand change this legislative season.

— Dr. Deb Henton is superintendent of North Branch Area Public Schools

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