NLS school board wants state to change debt equalization formula
NEW LONDON -- With a referendum on the ballot in November seeking voters' approval to fund a $14.6 million building project, the state's outdated formula for debt equalization is hitting close to home for the New London-Spicer School Board.
NEW LONDON –– With a referendum on the ballot in November seeking voters’ approval to fund a $14.6 million building project, the state’s outdated formula for debt equalization is hitting close to home for the New London-Spicer School Board.
During their meeting Monday, the board decided to hit back by approving a resolution they hope the Minnesota School Boards Association will adopt in their legislative platform.
The NLS school board wants the state to change its debt service equalization and other facility programs formulas to make it easier for schools with a low property value base to build and operate facilities.
If the state offsets, or equalizes, debt service for facilities, the burden to local property taxpayers would be less, said Chairman Robert Moller, who proposed the resolution.
Having adequate school facilities and providing an education should not “depend on a zip code,” said Boardmember Dave Kilpatrick.
According to Moller, the state’s share of debt service revenue fell from 11 percent in 1995 to about 3 percent for fiscal year 2015.
“It’s been continually drifting backwards,” said Moller, adding that debt service equalization needs to be indexed to match inflation.
Because the formula is “so out of whack” there are only a few wealthy districts that aren’t feeling the pinch when paying for facilities, Kilpatrick said.
Because there’s a momentum of support for debt service equalization that even includes metro suburb schools, Moller said he hopes the Minnesota School Boards Association will adopt the issue as a platform to lobby legislators.
Kilpatrick said the Legislature made progress last year to equalize operating levy that helped relieve the local tax burden. Now he said a permanent fix is needed to address debt service equalization.
Meanwhile, the school board heard an update on public meetings that were held recently on the district’s proposed facility project, which includes construction of a performing arts auditorium, gym and fitness center at the high school and a cafetorium at the elementary school.
Athletic Director John Vraa presented data that compared NLS facilities to neighboring school districts.
According to his research, there are two nearby districts with about half the high school enrollment of NLS, that have performing arts auditoriums and the same number of gym courts.
One district - Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg - is currently constructing an additional gym with two more courts, which will put its total at five.
NLS has four full-sized gym courts, according to Vraa.
He said the “glaring” disparity is that NLS is the only district in his list of 17 schools that does not have a performing arts auditorium.
The Morris School District, which is close in enrollment to NLS, has a theater auditorium and a concert hall with combined seating of 1,100.
NLS is proposing a performing arts auditorium to seat 650, with a price tag of $6.7 million.
The gym and fitness center would cost $6.3 million and the cafetorium and other renovations would cost $1.4 million.
The Morris, Minnewaska, Sauk Centre and Paynesville school districts – which are all smaller than NLS in terms of enrollment – have 4-7 gym courts.
“We’re behind. We really are,” said Vraa of the NLS facilities.
In other action Monday, the board agreed to ask permission to join the Annandate-Maple Lake-Litchfield Alpine Ski Cooperative in order to provide competitive alpine skiing as a sport option for students.