When Randi Jonson, North Branch Area Public Schools director of personnel and finance, addressed the School Board at its April 10 meeting, she said, “It’s very unusual to be able to come to you this early in a legislative session and talk to you about new statutory good news.”
That “good news,” in Johnson’s estimation, is the Legislature’s reworking of the Location Equity Index.
The index was part of the $512 per pupil unit in new funding the board approved last year, money that the board and other school boards across the state had access to as a result of the state modifying the state school funding formula.
The changes allowed districts to seek non-voter-approved levies, which totaled $300 per pupil unit, and some districts were eligible for the Location Equity Index, based on their student population and location in the state. In North Branch, the maximum amount the district could approve through the index was $212 per pupil unit.
Other districts — Rush City, for example — were not eligible for the funding because the student population was below 1,000, and they were not considered “metro.”
Superintendent Deb Henton explained districts with the metro tag were allowed to pursue a maximum of $424 in funding per pupil unit through the index.
“Chisago Lakes had access to $424 per student last year because that school district has a portion of its district in Washington County, which is considered the metro area,” she said.
Johnson said the Legislature deemed the index to be inequitable, so next year every school district across the state will be eligible for $424 per pupil unit through a new funding source called Local Option Revenue.
She explained, like the Location Equity Index, Local Option Revenue does have a property tax component.
She said the estimated impact on taxpayers within the NBAPS district, if the School Board were to approve the $424 maximum, would be roughly $36 per $100,000 in assessed residential or commercial value per year.
“Overall, it shows you that with this new legislation, if the board accesses the full funding, there would be more than $665,000 of additional funding, of which $450,000, approximately, would come from local property taxes,” Johnson said.
Board Chairman Kirby Ekstrom asked Johnson if the board could choose to levy a portion of the $424.
Johnson responded in the affirmative.
“With all of our other levies, you determine how much of that you want to levy, but you lose a proportionate amount of state aid,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘We’ll just take the state aid part and not do a local levy.’ It’s proportionate.”
Henton said Local Option Revenue is another tool the district could use to increase funding and opportunities for its students.
“It would have a great impact on the school district, if the School Board would choose to go in that direction,” she said.