Hastings School Board Chair Lisa Hedin moved to strike one item from the board’s 2023 legislative platform to get unanimous support from all members.
At its regular monthly meeting Wednesday, Jan. 25 in the Hastings Middle School Media Center, the board adopted the legislative strategy, weighing in on topics vital to ISD 200 that are under consideration or possible consideration by the State Legislature.
There were five items on the proposed platform that the board discussed at a work session earlier in the month. Director Carrie Tate took exception with one of them and voted against moving the platform to an action item during the meeting.
The item in question stated: “Allow locally elected school boards to renew an existing operating referendum a. Voters approved the existing operating referendum and vote every four years for every school board member b. Cities and Counties are not required to seek voter approval.”
The school district currently has a referendum-approved operating levy that expires this year, meaning the district would have to put another referendum on the ballot to continue to receive that funding, which it uses to meet operational expenses. The current measure was for an additional $300 in per pupil spending, and it passed by a 2,695-1,661 margin.
Tate expressed the opinion that the public should be able to vote on the additional funding.
“Two weeks ago (at the work session), I shared my concern with number four, that is without a public vote,” she said. “That one is my concern that I can’t support right now.”
When Hedin introduced the legislative platform for discussion, she said it would be a sign of the board starting to work together better.
“This is an example to me of our board growing in maturity,” she said. “We’ve advanced to a place where we’re considering having a board legislative platform which moves us to a place where we can engage in the legislative process.”
Hedin said that only schools have to go back continually for voter approval, and the item is a big topic being pushed by school boards and associations statewide.
“Cities and counties are not required to seek voter approval on their pieces. That being said, I would consider it valuable if the board as a whole could support the legislative program.”
Board members tried to sway Tate, but she wouldn’t support that plank.
Vice Chair Stephanie Malm said that the district would be vigilant in getting the facts out about the need for the operating levy, with or without a vote.
“I totally understand where you’re coming from,” she said to Tate. “Hearing from the community with their vote is imperative. That’s the foundation of America as a whole. I think it’s important. If this were to be something that passes in legislation, I would hope there would be some forum where the community would come in, tell us ‘we do want this’ or ‘we don’t want this’ and provide valuable input for us to make a sound decision. If the legislation passes, this is for the entire state. It wouldn’t be specific for Hastings. One of my biggest frustrations is that we are one of the only bodies that has to go out for a vote to be able to get funding to run public schools. We know this is an investment. It’s not that we would be voting for more money. It would be to renew an existing operating referendum… If it were to pass, I would want to see something where there was a robust, for lack of a better term, effort to pull in community members on multiple occasions before we make a decision.”
Director Mark Zuzek stressed that it’s not adding additional tax dollars, just continuing a levy that’s been in place for years.
“The chances that this increases a person’s taxation is very unlikely,” he said. “If the game was set up fairly, I would not be as strongly advocating as I am for this, because right now it is not set up fairly.”
Tate’s vote wasn’t changed and the measure moved to agenda for action with 5-1 board support. When it came up later in the meeting, Hedin moved to amend the platform to take that item off, because there wasn’t unanimous board support.
“I do believe it’s important that we have uniform and unanimity as a board voice on this item. While I may not have the same concerns in the same way that Director Tate does, I am going to make a motion to amend this item,” she said.
That passed unanimously, and with that, so did the official 2023 Hastings School Board Legislative Platform.
“I appreciate you making that amended motion so that it is unanimous. I think it’s important that we are one voice moving forward. When we do talk to legislators, when we talk to the community, we are one group,” said Malm.
The platform reads as follows: “ 1. Increase the basic formula allowance by 5 percent per year and index it to inflation. a. Since 2003, the state formula has not kept up with inflation b. Hastings would receive an additional $1,263 per student, or $5.6 million annually 2. Fully fund special education and English learner programs to eliminate the cross-subsidies. a. Currently, Hastings transfers a minimum of $3 million annually from the general fund to cover special education expenses that are not reimbursed b. Hastings receives $32k in English learner aid to cover 3 FTE costing over $234k.
3. Increase Local Optional Revenue to $840 per pupil and index it by average county wages to account for market-based geographic labor costs. a. The gap created by state funding not keeping with inflation has increased the pressure for local levies to absorb increased costs b. Stagnant to decreasing birth rates impacts our LOR levels c. We have needed to make market adjustments in our labor contracts as part of our labor negotiations 4. Increase equalization of the operating referendum, local optional, and debt service levies to reduce taxpayer and education funding disparities. a. 1995: State paid 71 cents & our local taxpayers paid 29 cents of every dollar of referendum revenue, 2023: State aid has dropped to zero and our local taxpayers are covering 100% b. Zip code economics creates inequities for taxpayers and can force decisions that impact kids c. Cost for $250,000 home to Levy $2,779 per student. The location of that home dictates what the resident pays: i. Hopkins $388 ii. West St. Paul $535 iii. Eden Prairie $636 iv. Hastings $842 Board committees
Hedin announced the 2023 board committee/ representative assignments. The policy committee is comprised of Malm (chair), Jessica Dressley and Zuzek.
The Community Engagement Committee is comprised of Brian Davis (chair), Becky Beissel and Tate.
Hedin will be board representative to ISD 917 and also the district representative on the Relicensure Committee.
Davis is the board rep on the Metropolitan Educational Cooperative Services Unit, as well as the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. Beissel is the board representative to the Minnesota State High School League.
As per policy, the board accepted donations to the school district that occurred between October and December 2022. The total of donations was $56,202.37, with additional donations of supplies exceeding $12,000.
Hedin expressed the district’s gratitude for the donations.
“It continues to be humbling, absolutely humbling, the degree to which our community, organizations, individuals, alumni and neighbors choose to support our district above and beyond their taxes with their time, their treasure and their talents. Thank you very much,” she said.