Moose Lake school district eligible for 60% state funding for new school
Moose Lake school officials and community members were excited to learn that Triple Equalization Aid was included in the funding by the Legislative Education Committee that was awaiting Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature at press time.
“The language for the proposal made it through the committee,” reported Superintendent Robert Indihar on Thursday, May 15, after he had received word. “Now we are just waiting for the governor to sign it.”
The Moose Lake school suffered damages from the flood in June 2012, and Supt. Indihar has worked with a lobbyist who represented both the Moose Lake and Rushford-Peterson school districts for two legislative sessions to seek aid for building new schools. The Rushford-Peterson school was damaged by flood waters in 2005.
At first, the emphasis was on securing $20 million for each school district toward the cost of a new school. The estimate to build a new school for the Moose Lake School District is $33 million.
The $20 million bond didn’t pass.
“That proposal was dead in the House (of Representatives) but favored in the Senate,” said Byron Kuster, one of the community members who met with legislators to work toward a funding option. “I started to think like a legislator. I could see that if they granted $20 million up front, whenever a school was damaged by a natural disaster, they would have to go through this all over again.
“In my mind, Triple Equalization Aid was a better fix. Triple Equalization Aid is better than bonding.”
If the $20 million in bonding had been granted, the school district would have received that amount in a one-time payment. With Triple Equalization Aid, the school district will receive $1 million a year for the 20-year life of the bond.
“I think that it is a wonderful thing,” said Kuster.
State facilities in the Moose Lake area — the prison and MSOP — do not pay taxes. The Moose Lake State Park, the hospital, the churches and state trails are also not taxable property.
“The taxable property in the school district just shrinks and shrinks and shrinks,” said Kuster. “That makes it very hard to pass a school bond referendum.
“The high school is 78 years old. It no longer meets the needs of the 21st century student. We need a new school. That’s the message that we repeated over and over and over to legislators in St. Paul.
“We could invest $10 million in fixing up the old school but it would still be flood prone. And there are still 13 entrances to the school and numerous other problems that will not go away. We thought it would just be better to invest that money in a new school.
“With Triple Equalization Aid, 60 percent of a new school will be paid by the state. This is a unique and an excellent opportunity.”
The school district residents will still have to vote on a school bond referendum to fund the remaining 40 percent of the cost of a new school. The Moose Lake School Board will make the decision about scheduling an election later in the year.
Greg Crowe, the school district’s financial adviser from Ehlers and Associates, explained in a recent telephone interview that the property owners would have had to pay $2.6 million a year on a $33 million bond for 20 years if a school board referendum had been passed by the voters earlier.
Under the Triple Equalization Aid, the state will pay $1.6 million per year.
“Instead of $51 million total for the bond and principal and interest, the state portion will be $30 million,” he added. “There will be more information coming in the next couple of months for the voters about the state’s share and the tax plan.”
The new legislation is good news to those who have supported a new school.
“I think that this is really exciting,” said Kuster. “Now the local residents only have to pay 40 percent of the cost of a new school.”
“We did what we could,” said Bruce Lourey, another supporter from the community who traveled to St. Paul to speak to the legislators. “We’re real excited. It passed by a wide margin. That’s a huge plus for Moose Lake. We can actually afford to build a new school now.”
“I am excited that, after two years of trying to get help from the Legislature, that we were able to secure a funding stream that will give us a good chance of passing a bond in Moose Lake,” wrote Supt. Indihar in an email message. “To reduce the tax impact by over half is a big deal.
“I am thankful to Senator Tony Lourey and Representative Mike Sundin for their authorization of our bill that passed this session. Also, there was a community group from Moose Lake that became politically active to help pass our bill. Their work at the Capitol made a huge difference in helping pass our bill.”