ISD 831’s request to boost levy fails to win state approval

Legislature took no action on school district’s bid to access program


Cliff Buchan
Staff Writer

Forest Lake School District 831’s idea of pumping new funds into delayed maintenance needs will have to wait at least another year.

When the Minnesota Legislature adjourned last month, it took no action on a request by the school district to access the state’s Alternative Facilities Revenue Bond and Levy program. Had the Legislature approved the request, the district could have boosted its local tax levy to address maintenance needs above and beyond current budget levels.

Larry Martini, director of business services for the district, said current budgets are stretched too thin to enable the district to stay current with parking lot and roof maintenance, among many needs.

“It did get some legs this round,” Martini said of the request.

Under current state rules, District 831 falls short of building square footage and age of buildings requirements to automatically qualify for the levy authority that does not require voter approval.

“It would give needed relief to our capital outlay fund,” Martini added.

School officials testified to the need before the E-12 Education Division of the Senate Finance Committee after the bill was authored by District 39 State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point. Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, Housley’s counterpart in the north half of the Senate district, was lead author of the House companion bill.

Local officials and legislators felt the Forest Lake bill had a chance when it was sent to conference committee. But complications arose during the process when the South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights districts pitched similar plans for access to the state program. The two districts are roughly half the size of Forest Lake, Martini said, referring to enrollment and facilities.

Housley said this week it was her belief the committee was receptive to the District 831 request but that Chair Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, felt the program needed retooling and that would be one of his goals for next year’s session.

“I will do everything I can to work with Sen. Wiger to make sure the Alternative Facilities Revenue Bond and Levy program remains effective and that schools like Forest Lake get the funding they need to best educate Minnesota’s school children,” Housley said in a statement to the Forest Lake Times.

All three requests for the levy authority were laid over to the next session for consideration.

Martini said the district had made tentative plans to levy some $1.5 million this fall to address roofing and parking lot projects that need to be done.

“We’re not interested in going crazy here,” Martini said of the hoped-for levy authority.

The one-year levy would allow the district ample time to prepare a full five-year plan to address maintenance areas that have been deferred because of lack of funds, he said.

“Forest Lake was actually close,” he said of the attempt. “We’ll try again next year.”

The special taxing authority would put Forest Lake on an even level with Stillwater, North St. Paul and White Bear Lake. Those districts were granted the special taxing authority more than a decade ago while Forest Lake was not considered, Martini said. The Wayzata district was added to the program in 2012, he said.

Better Chance?

Based on numbers alone as they relate to state requirements for inclusion in the program, Forest Lake will be in a better place next year, Martini said.

The district is still a few years away from meeting the age of buildings requirements, but is getting closer in terms of the square-footage requirement for buildings.

District 831 is now in process of finalizing a purchase agreement of the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association Sports Center. By acquiring the ice arena, the district’s total square footage of buildings will grow to 1.4 million square feet. The state requirement is 1.5 million square feet. The purchase is expected to be complete this summer.

“It gets us closer but we are still not over the hump,” he said of the arena purchase’s impact on the square-footage requirement.