Jim Behle, Assistant Superintendent STMA
St. Michael-Albertville Public School academic achievement ranks in the top 20% of Minnesota schools despite general education funding ranking in the bottom 10%. According to a recent report ranking Minnesota’s school district 2010-11 revenue, STMA’s $6,012 per pupil ranks 316 out of 337 school districts. STMA’s revenue per pupil compares to the state average of $7,055 and the highest ranking school with $10,760 per pupil. The averages show Minneapolis and St. Paul at $8,722, other metro schools at $7,025 and non-metro schools with enrollments over 2,000 students at $6,519.
STMA School Board members recently met with Brad Lundell, Executive Director of Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) to learn more about the large difference in funding and about how best to advocate for the children, families and taxpayers in STMA to ensure equal access to a high quality education. SEE is an association of 58 school districts throughout the State of Minnesota representing approximately 250,000 children with common concerns about equal access to high quality education.
School funding is complex and leads to a lack of understanding as to why there is a large difference in funding among school districts. In its simplest form, schools receive an amount per pupil multiplied by the number of pupil units attending school. The basic per pupil amount of $5,124 is the same for all schools; however the state has many other funding categories for which districts must qualify and which are funded at different amounts per pupil per school. These categorical funding programs account for some of the large difference because STMA does not qualify or qualifies at a lower amount than other schools. Dr. Ziegler, STMA superintendent stated that it is understandable that some schools should be funded at a higher level because they have more students who require special assistance to learn or the schools have unique challenges but the disparity is increasing. STMA is unable to supplement funding through categorical programs and must rely upon the basic amount which has not increased in three years.
A second factor accounting for the difference is that districts receive funding from local voter approved referendums that vary greatly among schools. For example, STMA has a $500 per pupil voter approved referendum compared to districts in the area that receive as high as $1,866 per pupil. A major reason for the difference in referendum amounts per pupil is because taxpayer burdens are different among school districts due to the tax market value of the district. School districts with greater commercial property are able to balance the burden among business and residential properties compared to those districts whose tax market values are made up of primarily residential values. As an example, the tax burden percent per $100,000 of value for a referendum is twice as much in STMA compared to Edina. The State of Minnesota equalized the burden at 80% in 1995 but reduced equalization to only 29% in 2010.
Dr. Ziegler affirmed that STMA strives to focus the majority of its resources on the classroom and to employ the prudent use of taxpayer resources. A recent example where resources are being used to support student achievement is through the commitment to use funds from the Education Jobs Fund to address class size concerns and target additional reading and math assistance to students. The federal program is one-time money to save and create education jobs over the next two years.
The Board of Education and administration have maintained a sound fiscal condition despite facing the challenges of less money per pupil compared to other schools and economic conditions where revenue has not kept up with new state and federal mandates and increasing costs to education students. STMA will continue to advocate for equitable statewide distribution of school resources and equal access to a high quality education for its students regardless of the property wealth of a school district.