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Red Lake seeks more school funding

Published (2/15/2008)
By Thomas Hammell
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A $30 million request to complete two schools in northern Minnesota is on hold.

HF1120, sponsored by Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids), would appropriate $30 million to the Red Lake School District to complete high school and middle school renovation projects, including classroom additions, heating plant upgrade and replacement of areas where mold growth is an issue.

It was held over Feb. 12 by the House K-12 Finance Division for possible inclusion in its bonding recommendations.

A companion bill, SF1099, sponsored by Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee. The funding was in last year’s bonding bill vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It was not in his bonding proposal this year.

“We’re just kind of flummoxed that it didn’t end up in the governor’s bonding request,” said Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), the division chairwoman.

Because the district has such low property value, and very little tax base because most of its land is owned by Red Lake tribal members, the district has received four capital loans from the state since 1992 for school projects. It received $18 million in 2005 to build a new middle school and renovate the high school.

Districts, like Red Lake, without enough property tax base to finance construction projects can qualify for state assistance under the Maximum Effort School Aid Law. Under this program, the state borrows money through bonds and lends it to qualifying school districts.

Monte Hammitt, a consultant to the district, said the district is in dire need of finishing the project, and infrastructure is stretched as far as it can go. “We need to finish our school so we can move forward.”

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