District funding needs usher in local tax impact, investment into schools

Dr. Ray Queener
Dr. Ray Queener

Dr. Ray Queener, Superintendent
Cambridge-Isanti School District

Recent changes in legislation have shifted school funding options. It is a priority of Independent School District 911 to help local taxpayers understand the relationship between property taxes and school funding. This includes promoting an understanding of the District’s need for school funding, and how local property taxes will be impacted in 2014.

On Nov. 5, the communities will have the opportunity to vote on a $10-million bond referendum. The costs to address the urgent safety, security, repair, and maintenance needs of our facilities are higher than the funding received from the State. Support of the bond referendum will help to fund these needs, protect taxpayer assets, and maintain safe, effective environments at our schools.

The bond — unlike levies — cannot be used to hire teachers, pay utility costs, or purchase educational materials required for learning in our schools. The bond can only be used to address the most critical components of our buildings and facilities. Should the communities support the bond, a $125,000 average residential home will be assessed an approximate $19/year tax impact — $1.58 per month — beginning at the time of 2014 taxes for a period of 20 years.

Investing in our schools and our students is vital to our communities. It’s our responsibility to continue our history of providing our students with superior educational opportunities and meaningful resources that foster life-long knowledge, character, and personal growth in our students.

In 2013 the Minnesota Legislature approved a measure that gives school boards the authority to implement an operating levy of up to $300 per student. This means that with a school board decision, property owners will pay more in property taxes to help generate the money needed to operate schools and reduce funding disparities.

At its regular business meeting in July, the school board moved in accordance with legislation to implement a $300 per student levy on local property taxes.

An additional $212 in revenue was gained by “location equity” funding through the State. The board did not act to prohibit the State from adding this revenue for our students, which allows local taxes already paid in to the State to be redistributed back into our schools — preventing it from being distributed elsewhere.

The combined revenue totals $512 in funding per student levied for taxes payable in 2014. Essentially, the District will get 50 percent more in per student funding for the same local tax impact — or in other words — revenue to operate our schools for half the cost to local taxpayers. Therefore, the school board used the opportunity to capitalize funding for our schools. This provided the District with the means to maximize our investment in our students while minimizing the cost to local taxpayers.

Cambridge-Isanti is one of 38 school districts that did not have an operating levy in place prior to the new legislation. Our district ranked last (340/340) in the state in revenue received to operate our schools. After years of budget and program reductions, and in order to avoid additional budget cuts that would drastically reduce student programs further as well as result in decreased staffing levels and increased class sizes, and to eliminate deficit spending, the school board found it reasonable to levy for the funding to help sustain our schools.

As a District, and a larger community, we have a vested interest to maintain and advance the education of our students; something that has been challenging for several years without additional funding.

The board-approved operating levy will generate approximately $3-million in revenue for the District, approximately half of which will come as state aid — money received from the State through taxes which taxpayers have already paid. On a $125,000 average residential home the estimated tax increase is approximately $98.64/year — or $8.22 per month. This revenue will not be accessible until the District’s 2014-15 school year; however, property owners will see this impact on their 2014 taxes.

A $3-million alternative facilities bond will be issued to help finance a ventilation system upgrade at Isanti Middle School/Minnesota Center. This project is in conjunction to the proposed project specified in the bond referendum.  The District will issue a general obligation (G.O.) bond through the State. The need for the bond was due to the delayed maintenance of the ventilation system, and the insufficient funds to meet the urgent health and safety needs. As a result of these borrowed funds, the District must place a levy to repay its debt obligation through an additional property tax. On a $125,000 average residential home, an approximate $19/year tax impact — $1.58 per month — will be assessed beginning at the time of 2014 taxes for a duration of 10 years.

The District welcomes questions on the local tax impact and the funding of our schools. It is our privilege to keep the communities informed and involved in our schools, and the education of our students.

You can learn more about how your taxes will be impacted for the financing of our students’ education and the investment in our buildings and facilities by visiting http://www.cambridge.k12.mn.us/~bondreferendum/ to access a combined tax impact assessment table and more resources on the bond referendum. Keep informed of referendum initiatives by following @Queener1 on Twitter or call the superintendent’s office at 763-689-6188.