Expecting to continue our history of above average results and wonderful student opportunities, the Brainerd Public Schools should not need to rely on local tax levies to equitably fund our schools.
Minnesota has a constitutional responsibility to provide a uniform educational system, and St. Paul has not been held accountable for the great inequities in funding across Minnesota public school districts. Local levies have been used for too long as a means of funding basic school operations. The range of differences in local levy funding has become astronomical.
Recently, Brainerd Public Schools staff testified in St. Paul regarding how far the local levy balance has been tipped toward property wealthy school districts. A few property wealthy Minnesota districts currently maintain local levies of $1,500 or more per pupil, while in Brainerd the local levy is $199 per pupil. The levy revenue difference between the wealthiest district and Brainerd is $12 million annually.
Eight years ago, the balance between “have” and “have not” districts was similarly skewed. Eight years ago, lawmakers and the governor recognized this statewide inequity and corrected it. Eight years later, Gov. Dayton’s Education Finance Working Group has recommended Minnesota again correct some of the equity gap and help communities like ours avoid new local taxes while still supporting our schools.
The Education Finance Working Group has recommended that the first $400 of all district levies be taken over by the state. If that were to happen, Brainerd’s dilemma of an expiring levy would be eliminated and taxes would go down. Education Finance Working Group recommendations need to become a reality across all Minnesota school districts. They promote a greater equity and promote the constitutional expectation that support of Minnesota schools is not dependent upon the ability of a school district to convince voters to support basic funding. Please encourage our local legislators to accept and deliver these recommendations through the ultimate compromise which will close the session!
In the meantime, all of us (teachers, support staff, administrators and students) will continue to work hard to maintain the tradition of excellence we all enjoy in District 181.
STEVE RAZIDLO is superintendent of the Brainerd School District.