August is a bitter-sweet month.

August is a bitter-sweet month.

It’s a time when summer winds down and most families are done with vacations, summer rec programs are finished and weekends become less jam-packed.

It also signifies a new beginning–of the school year.

In four short days, students at the public school in Sleepy Eye will begin another school year. The following week, students at St. Mary’s and St. John’s will return for another year.

There’s plenty of stress that surrounds back to school–from the anxiety kids might be feeling, to the strain the season puts on your wallet (who knew school supplies could be so pricey?!)

Each year that I take my kids school shopping for supplies, it seems like the list–and expense–has grown. When I was a kid, every August was marked by a trip to the store for folders and pencils, perhaps with a few boxes of tissues thrown in. Years later, when I bought school supplies for our son, the list had broadened, but it was still modest, largely consisting of products that my son would directly use. However, this school year when I was required to buy post-it notes, a 20 pack of pens, 4 large boxes of Kleenex to share in the classroom and a host of other office supplies that didn’t seem related to the educational experience of my children, I bristled.

A reason for the expanded list of supplies is that parents are increasingly being called upon to make up for cuts in educational funding. When the economy takes a downturn, education is usually one of the first things cut. Schools are being asked to do more with less. Federal and state budgets are being balanced on the backs of parents and students.

This past May, Gov. Mark Dayton signed an education budget bill that boosts funding for public schools over the next two years.

The $15.7 billion bill is the biggest piece of the state budget. It increases education spending by $485 million over current levels.

A key issue that was tackled in the legislative session was the issue of school levy inequities. Legislators made strides to help districts at the bottom end of the referendum game. Legislation was passed to get everyone to at least $300 per pupil seeking school board levy authority to accomplish this.

“There are approximately 10 percent of school districts in the state that don’t have an operating referendum, Sleepy Eye being one of those districts” said Dr. Tom Melcher, the school finance director at the Minnesota Department of Education. “For those districts, this law allows school boards to pass a resolution that would allow them to raise $300 per pupil of revenue as if they had gone to the voters and passed a $300 per pupil referendum.” 

Senator Chuck Wiger, who chaired the Education Finance Division and authored the E12 senate bill, said the $300 per pupil unit was written with rural districts like Sleepy Eye in mind.

“Everyone should have the same right of access to educational opportunities throughout the state regardless of zip code,” Wiger said. “It just wasn’t fair that some of the districts were coming up short, particularly in rural Minnesota.” 

Last Thursday the District 84 Board of Education approved a resolution authorizing a new board approved referendum authority that would allow them to raise revenue as if they had gone to the voters and passed a $300 per pupil referendum.

What will this mean for tax payers?

In a future edition of the Herald-Dispatch look for an in-depth story outlining exactly what this referendum authority means and how it will look to tax payers.

In the meantime, enjoy your first day back to school!