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Houston School Board holds truth in taxation meeting

By Angie Rodenburg

Fri, Dec 6th, 2013
Posted in All Education

The Houston School Board held its regularly scheduled meeting as well as a special Truth in Taxation meeting on December 3. During the regularly scheduled portion of the meeting Interim Superintendent Rick highlighted the language and financial changes made to the 2013-2015 Teacher Master Agreement. The changes were approved by the school board. The board also approved the 2013 audit report for the district. At 6 p.m. the school board adjourned the regular meeting to start the Truth in Taxation hearing.

Interim Superintendent Rick opened the hearing by going through the evening’s agenda. General background information on school funding and school district property taxes was given. According to Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution, Miscellaneous Subjects, Section 1: Uniform System of Public Schools, “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly on the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.”

The state sets formulas to determine school revenue and sets school tax policy. The state also authorizes schools to tax and request referendums, but also sets the maximum amount a school can tax. The proposed tax statements that Houston residents received in the mail reflected the amount of taxes they would need to pay should the school board decide to levy to the maximum amount.

Gwen Rostad, Houston Schools Director of Finance, and Krin Abraham, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, reported on the district’s budget and the district’s proposed tax levy for taxes payable in 2014.

Rostad informed Houston citizens in attendance that the General Fund accounts for 97 percent of the district’s revenue. This pays for regular instruction, special education, transportation, and custodial. Whereas the other 3 percent of the general fund goes to food service, community service and debt service. Rostad also reported the 2013-2014 General Fund Budget Revenue by Major Source and cited that 90 percent of the General Fund Budget is provided by state aid, 4 percent is property taxes, 2 percent comes from federal sources, and 4 percent is from miscellaneous funding. Abraham also spoke on the background information of how property taxes are assessed.

After Rostad and Abraham finished presenting their information, the floor was open for public comment. During this time several Houston residents expressed their concerns over the proposed tax statements they received in the mail that outlined their possible tax rates for the year 2014. Many residents didn’t know how they could afford to keep living in their homes should the school board decide to levy the maximum amount allowed.

Al Jacobs, a resident of Houston, raised the question as to if the online school has become a burden on the taxpayers. The concern was that online students outside of the district are not paying taxes that help to provide their education and instead the burden is resting on those within the district. Interim Superintendent Rick told the citizens that the online school is funded by the district, but also affirmed the value that the online school has for the Houston School District. School board member Mimi Carlson chimed in saying, “The benefits we get from the online school is tremendous.”

Kelley Stanage, another resident of Houston, expressed her concern that Houston is one of the most highly taxed districts in Minnesota as well as showing her concern that the taxpayers were led to believe that Houston citizens would not have to pay additional taxes for the online school. Gwen Rostad informed those in attendance that property taxes do not go to the online school. Another question raised by the citizens was whether or not the online revenue covered the online costs. The answer is not currently known as the audit report covers the district as a whole and does not audit the online and brick and mortar school separately. Interim Superintendent Rick re-emphasised the value and benefit that the online school brings to the district and that its value shouldn’t be solely based on numbers but rather on results.

One of the last questions asked by the citizens was what the money would be used for. Interim Superintendent Rick answered, “It would be used to help increase student achievement by making resources available that can help to do that.” Rick also talked about integrating more technology into instruction and reassured citizens that the money would be used wisely.

Throughout the meeting various school board members calmed the fears of those in attendance by saying that they have no intention of levying to the maximum amount. Multiple residents thanked the school board for having an open dialogue with them. Kay Jacobs, a Houston resident, said she thought many people did not come to the meeting thinking that their voices and concerns would not really be considered by the school board. She was happy to find that was not the case. The school board will not take any action until their December 17 meeting.

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