Letter: Superintendents urge property tax relief and increased funding

Superintendents urge property tax relief and increased funding
School Districts across the state will be putting property tax relief and increased funding as top priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
The high cost of school levies and the inadequate increase to the basic education formula has created an educational opportunity gap for too many students, Currently, when voters approve a school levy, the cost they will pay through property taxes is based on the property wealth of the school district. Without commercial or industrial development to expand the tax base and lower the cost for all, the tax burden falls quite heavily on the home or small business owners. The state established an equalization program decades ago where the state paid a portion of voter-approved levies in low property wealth districts.
However, equalization funding has not keep up with inflation. Now, taxpayers in low property wealth districts pay significantly more to provide the same funding for their students than similar taxpayers in high property wealth districts. The chart below demonstrates the differences for local taxpayers when paying for school district levies.
This inequity in funding creates disparities in educational opportunities. Students in many low property wealth districts are at a distinct disadvantage when they compete for college and career opportunities with students from schools that are better funded. Therefore, the Legislature and Governor need to increase the funding for equalization, which will reduce property taxes in low property wealth school districts. Although increased equalization does not provide any new funding for school districts, it may make it easier for taxpayers to support future school levies. We urge our residents to get informed and to contact your local legislators and the governor’s office to once and for all address the inequities in the funding formulas across the State of Minnesota.
Much like our families experience, the cost of products and services continue to increase.  In schools, this is no different.  While investing in taxpayer fairness is one strategy to help schools and school districts to keep local investments affordable, the need for increased funding on the basic educational formula is also a necessity.  Many districts have or will be facing budget cuts over the next two years.  While it is politically appealing to the state that school districts live within their means, the cost to students and families is great when trying to balance budgets without increased funding.  It is well documented that state funding for education has increased over time, it is also well documented that funding has not kept up with inflation.
As superintendents, we are charged with delivering high quality programs and services for our students and communities.  Without inflationary increases in funding, the challenge becomes trying to do more and more with less and less over time.  While recent increases to education funding are greatly appreciated, we advocate for growth on the basic education formula for the next biennium to maintain the essential programs and services for our students.
When the legislature and governor are looking for ways to reduce taxes, equalizing the property tax system is  good place to start. Increased funding for equalization would provide immediate property tax relief and, in the process, make the education funding system more equitable for all students in Minnesota.. In addition, it is also necessary to increase the basic educational formula with an inflationary increase to avoid going backwards in supporting our students.
Please note that passage of H. F. 1381/SF 1381 (McDonald/Senjem) would assist our property taxpayers with debt service and other items beneficial to school districts.
Our goal is equitable funding to support high quality schools for all children no matter the zip code.

Dr. Deb Henton, Superintendent
North Branch Area Public Schools
Mr. Paul Durand, Superintendent
Rockford Area Schools Dist. #883
Mr. Rob Prater, Superintendent
Hinckley-Finlayson Schools #2165
Mr. Ken Gagner, Superintendent
Braham Area Schools #314
Dr. Ray Queener, Superintendent
Cambridge-Isanti Schools
Dr. Julia Espe, Superintendent
Princeton Public Schools #477
Mr. Andrew Almos, Superintendent
East Central School District #2580
Mrs. Kathy Belsheim, Superintendent
Ogilvie Public Schools
Mrs. Annette K. Freiheit, Superintendent
Pine City Public Schools #578
Mr. Troy Ferguson, Superintendent
Independent School District #15 St. Francis
Mr. Joe Thimm, Superintendent
Chisago Lakes Public Schools