What a journey it has been to get to the point where we are today. The issue the school has been dealing with for years is we need to upgrade our facilities. The school board has made four attempts to pass a building bond since I have been in the district. None of them have been successful.
Two years ago the school board worked on a concept to bring more equity to the taxation of our citizens by starting the process of asking the state for additional monies for our unique situation of having an old building that went through a natural disaster with the added disadvantage of having a poor tax base. We partnered up with Rushford-Peterson School District, a district with the same issue as Moose Lake, to write a bill asking the state for help.
We hired a lobbyist to help us try to pass a bill to allow us a chance to pass a bond. I did not realize how important a lobbyist is to weave your way through the legislative process until we embarked on this cause.
Last year was not a bonding year, but we had hopes the state would listen to our issue and help us out. In the end, our legislation did not pass. We went out to the public to see if, once again, we could pass a bond to build a new building last spring. It was defeated soundly.
I sat down with a group of people from the community who wanted to help with our situation over that summer. I called them the “United Group.” These were people who were vocal about voting no on the last bond, as well as people who were vocal about voting yes on the last bond. We met to find some common ground on a solution to our facility issues in the school that could be acceptable to both groups.
We had a lot of open discussion about where people stood with our building and why. One thing that came out of the discussions was the school needed to do a survey of our district residents. We did that. The results of the survey had some common themes. Some of the core themes were the tax impact of a new building was too high, the school needed to look at consolidation, and there was no concept for the building they were voting on last spring.
Our board was open to looking at consolidation with the surrounding districts, but the timing was not right for the other districts. Our “United Group” could see that if there was hope of passing a bond, it would have had to be in the area of a $300 tax increase for a $150,000 house. At that level of funding, the only option we saw was to upgrade the current structure. The bonding dollars would not be enough to build a new building to house the number of students we have.
In December of 2013, the “United Group” decided that we were going to take a break until we found out what was going to happen with our bills going through the Legislature. The thought was that this was the only thing that would change what direction we were headed with the solution to our facility needs.
During this school year, Kris Lyons and I spent a lot of time at the Capitol making sure the senators and representatives understood our circumstances. I believe that because we were so vocal about the inequities in school facility financing, I was put on a legislative advisory committee to give recommendation to the Legislature on fixing the inequity problem in the state.
As I reflect back, this was an important committee to be a part of because our story got out repeatedly to the legislators as to what was wrong with school facility financing in the state.
While on the committee, I met our school’s new financial advisor from Ehlers, Greg Crow. He strongly recommended to me after a meeting one day that we should be looking at a different way of receiving funding from the state. At that time, we were asking for bonding dollars, and he suggested we look at increasing the equalization dollars the state provides to schools. We called this “Triple Equalization.”
We had already had our bonding bill request in the House and Senate. Now we drafted a bill in both the House and Senate with the Triple Equalization language.
Sen. Tony Lourey and Rep. Mike Sundin were instrumental in the passage of our bill. They were the authors of our bills and they worked behind the scenes to get things done. Sen. Lourey’s impact was great in the final days of the session because he was part of the conference committee that decided the final omnibus bill.
Another key to passage of our legislation came in the form of a meeting during the winter. I can’t remember if it was Byron Kuster or Bruce Lourey who first talked to me (maybe they came in together). They explained there was a group of people in the community who knew we were looking at fixing up the building and they wanted to help the school pass the legislation because they did not see fixing our current building as a financially prudent thing to do but understood without help that was what was going to be done.
They told me they had about 60 people who were willing to help at different levels with the passage of our bill. I sat with them and gave them information about whom they needed to contact at the Capitol. They took it from there. Most times when I testified at the Capitol they were there as support. As I talked with the legislators, they would mention they were getting many emails and letters from community members or community members had visited with them. I believe this made a big impact on the legislators. If you were one of these people, thank you. You made a difference.
Now we are to the point where we are promised a significant sum of money from the state. Depending on the cost of the building, it could mean between 20 million and 27 million dollars of state equalization dollars for the 20 years of the bond. Essentially, the state has reduced the tax impact to the citizens of Moose Lake by more than half of what it would have been. The state is doing its part dealing with the equity issue and is putting it in the hands of our citizens as to whether or not we need a new building in Moose Lake.
We do plan on going out for another bond in the near future for the public to vote on. We have been given a good opportunity in Moose Lake to get a bond passed with the additional funding the state has provided.
I want to once again thank all the people who made this opportunity possible. I am excited to see what the future holds for our students, school, and our community.