Another MN legislative session is now underway and the process is rolling towards the compromises and deals that are struck in May in hopes of making our great state of MN even better. No doubt the media will give us a constant stream of glorified sound bites over the next three months in hopes of increasing followership and selling advertisements. I encourage all community members to stay engaged with local legislators and to respectfully weigh in on issues as they are put on the table for discussion and action. Always at the forefront in St. Paul are issues that directly impact our schools, our teachers and our students. Because this is a funding year (the legislature establishes a two year budget every other year), school finance will be a main topic of debate, and misconstrued facts will be tossed around making it difficult for members of the public to get a good understanding of truth. Please reach out to our business manager Jenny Max or to me in the school district office if we can be of any help as you sift through the flow of information.
I’ve reached out to our local legislators on behalf of Pequot Lakes Schools students with two school funding points. First, I’ve advocated for increasing the General Education Aid formula by 5% both years to begin addressing funding shortfalls from the past 10 years. Unlike some other businesses, about 80% of public school costs are locked up in employee salaries and benefits that increase annual expenditures nearly 3% each year. Increases in General Education Aid revenue over the past ten years have averaged between 1% and 2% and districts across the state have been forced to levy local property owners to make up for this difference. Our district has levied property owners less than nearly all other districts in MN and as a result, expenditure reductions over many years are now resulting in less effective services for our students. A 3% increase both years would only maintain the status quo, and I believe our students deserve better.
The second point I’ve advocated for is to adopt the recommendations of the School Facilities Task Force that worked all of last year trying to address an incredible inequity between the 25 largest districts in MN and everyone else. The 25 largest districts spend $2.79/square foot each year to maintain school facilities while the rest of the districts spend just $.58/square foot. This nearly 5:1 discrepancy is due to how several revenue streams play out at the local level and the recommendations of the task force correct these issues over a 4 - 5 year period. The recommendations are captured in SF75 and SF76 introduced by Senator Kevin Dahle in early January.
The Pequot Lakes school board and administrative team have done a better job than nearly all other MN districts of trimming expenditures to avoid local property levies during a long season of minimal increases to General Education Aid revenue. The board did approve a small levy increase for 2015 recognizing the need to address gaps in our services to students and to respond to needs articulated in our 2020 district vision. If we are truly going to work towards personalization of learning, increasing our staff capacities, and providing meaningful interventions and enrichments for students, we will need funding that keeps up with uncontrollable inflationary costs and makes up for a long season of funding shortfalls. Please join me in advocating for our Patriot students by reaching out to your legislators on these two key issues!
-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools