K-12 funding: Bill would reduce property taxes for school districtsLocal officials say a bill that would alleviate property tax burdens while supplying more money for public school students is a good proposal, but want to know that funding will be there for the future.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Local officials say a bill that would alleviate property tax burdens while supplying more money for public school students is a good proposal, but want to know that funding will be there for the future.
House Bill 1319, sponsored by Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, “would provide an established base of financial support necessary to provide students a good, solid education,” according to the bill’s language.
The House Education Committee gave HB 1319 a “do pass” recommendation last week. It moved to the House Appropriations Committee on Friday.
“Anything that could do tax relief without hurting school funding, yeah I’m absolutely in favor of that,” said JPS Superintendent Bob Toso of the proposed bill. “I just want to make sure that the final bill that comes out does deliver tax relief as well as adequate dollars to fund education, and we’re not going to know that until the final bill comes out.”
Jamestown Public School Board member Gail Martin also said she favors the property tax relief but wants to make sure funding is there for facilities here in the future — especially with population growth expected in Jamestown.
“We got some exciting things on our horizon and I’m just hoping we still have the flexibility to move the district financially the way we need to,” Martin said.
Three top university professors with expertise in school finance completed a study that that determined what an average student payment should be in 2008. The study concluded a base amount of $7,293 per average student, per year in North Dakota.
With cost-of-living adjustments, the bill proposes $8,810 of state funding per student enrolled in a public school district for the first year of the biennium and $9,092 the second year.
That amount is the same for students statewide.
“If you’re a student at one corner of that (North Dakota), you should be assured you have the funding to provide that good, solid education,” said Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, of students across the state.
The bill would limit mills to 72 per school district. The district would also provide 75 percent of its other income not including property taxes. The state would then making up the rest of the funding.
Greg Allen, board member and president of the North Dakota School Board Association, said he hopes funding is also adequate for the future here.
“I would hate to have to go back in two years and say ‘the Legislature isn’t able to fund us and now we have to raise your property taxes to finance the schools,’” Allen said. “That’s not a position I’d like to be put in.”
Currently Jamestown Public Schools levies 155.4 mills.
“The (proposed) formula assumes they (school districts) will levy 50 mills — then they’ll get an additional 10 for other education that they can put into effect by board authority, and they would get another 12 for miscellaneous expenses,” said Kayla Effertz, senior policy adviser for Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
The formula doesn’t require districts to levy 50 mills, but assumes districts will, based on the most recent taxable valuations, Effertz said.
On top of those 50 mills, add 75 percent of a district’s other income from all sources not including property tax to calculate a district’s payment. Included in the other income would be mineral rights and in-lieu tax payments, Effertz said. Essentially an in-lieu payment is a tax payment in place of another tax payment.
The state would then fund the remainder of all districts’ budgets not including up to 72 mills and 75 percent of outside income.
The most recent data from Jamestown Public Schools shows that local revenue made up about 26 percent of the budget for the last school year, or roughly $6 million.
Under the proposal local taxpayers would cover less of the cost of local education.
“I believe the purpose of this bill is to shift more of that financial responsibility to the state and alleviate some of that responsibility for that good education from our local taxpayers’ shoulders,” Baesler said.
The new formula would also eliminate the mill levy buy-down program. The state has given districts mill levy reduction grants where districts don’t levy the mills on property taxes, but receive the amount that district would levy in per-pupil payments. Instead, school boards could vote to add 10 mills.
The other 12 mills, for the maximum of 72 mills, could be used for any expenses beyond those included for adequate support services. This would be for technology upgrades, unexpected maintenance, transportation costs or any other service not included in the adequate support services.
Jamestown currently has 12 mills allocated for alternative education and tuition.
“Virtually every school district benefits substantially from the formula change in terms of dollars per weighted student unit,” the bill highlight sheet said. “This benefit does not even take into account a district’s opportunity to use added mill levy authority at board discretion nor does it take into account the fact that 25 percent of a school district’s outside income is still left out of all formula calculations.”
The state would cover more of the cost for education, but it would have no voice in dictating curriculum, Baesler said.
“This funding formula certainly is a new way to fund and does not impede in any form in what curriculum is offered,” she said.
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction supports this bill and it was part of Dalrymple’s campaign proposal.
“The best thing I like about this idea is we are moving away from a set amount of money toward a concept of adequate education,” Baesler said.
Toso said he expects the bill will continue to evolve as the session continues.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org