School board discusses referendum authority

MARSHALL – The Marshall School Board members heard information regarding a potential increase of $80,000 in state aid and are discussing whether or not to approve a new referendum authority at the next board meeting.

Ehlers financial adviser Jodie Zesbaugh walked the board through an informative presentation Monday, which highlighted last year’s location equity revenue (LER) calculations and the projected 2015-16 local optional revenue (LOR) figures.

In 2013, the Legislature approved the LER for taxes payable in 2014, with districts having property in the seven-county metro area receiving $424 per pupil units and out-state districts with more than 2,000 students, like Marshall, receiving $212. In 2014, the Legislature approved the new LOR as a replacement for LER. So now, all Minnesota school districts will qualify for $424 per pupil unit of LOR, which reduces the taxpayer operating referendum revenue.

“It’s basically the state’s way of evening the playing field,” Zesbaugh said. “The new calculation method attempts to get all school districts at the $724 mark without going to the voters or incurring the cost of an election. It’s a pretty good deal for your taxpayers and students.”

The board needs to decide if it should raise the current net referendum authority (per adjusted pupil units) of $267 to $300, which would allow the district to secure the additional $80,000 in state aid for the 2015-16 school year. The $33 proposed increase in authority would mean a $11 annual increase for an average home in the district ($150,000).

“Superintendent (Scott) Monson and I discussed the possibility of replacing the $267 with $300 to be able to get the (additional) $80,000 with a minimum tax impact,” Business Director Bruce Lamprecht said. “It seems like the appropriate direction to go.”

The board could approve the new resolution authorization for up to five years. If the board decided to do nothing, legislative changes would still result in a slight property tax increase for taxes payable in 2015, Zesbaugh said.

“So many districts have referendums above $724 and some will receive a considerable amount of new revenue,” Zesbaugh said. “MPS is looking at its full impact with the increase of $33. It comes out to less than one dollar a month for property owners with a home valued at $150,000. That’s because the state is helping out a lot. They’d be supplying 54 percent of the aid with the proposed authority approval.”

While no action was taken with the matter, the board was encouraged to vote on the issue well in advance of the Sept. 30 deadline so that accurate information is included on the proposed levy report prepared by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The board also discussed briefly the matter of policy review.

“There seems to be more emphasis on policy in the state of Minnesota, as we’ve seen with the bullying legislation,” Monson said. “And I’m kind of a policy person, so I’d like to offer up for suggestion to think about adopting a policy review cycle. We could break up the polices into 36 months, so that way they’d at least be reviewed every three years. There’s still about a dozen or so that would have to be reviewed annually.”

Board member Bill Mulso asked if the current schedule for reviewing policies was guided by the Minnesota School Board Association. Superintendent assistant Tricia Stelter noted that it was. The board will likely continue discussing the matter at a later date.

In addition to approving personnel changes, the board voted to approve the 2014 employee handbook.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Monson said. “It includes best practices and reflects some of the new personnel changes and various policies, especially emphasizing the new bullying policy. We’ll do some proofreading and editing yet before we finalize it, but the staff has done a good job with it.”