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School debt limit change proposed

Published (3/23/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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State law limits the majority of school districts’ debt to 15 percent of the taxable market value. Districts located partly or wholly within cities of 100,000 or more people may only have debt at 0.7 percent of their market value. This could change.

Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron) sponsors HF2917, which would standardize the debt limit at 15 percent for all districts in Minnesota. The House Education Finance Committee laid the bill over March 21 for possible inclusion in a later measure. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester) sponsors SF2515, the companion that awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

Quam explained that this change would help rid the state of an “arcane” law, creating a more equal system for schools.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) said the bill fits with her personal philosophy of creating laws that uniformly apply to all districts.

“I still go back to charging next year’s Legislature to examine why we seem to want to cling to different statutes for different school districts,” she said.

Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) accused Quam of trying to mold state law in ways that would be advantageous to his district. Quam represents cities in and around the Rochester area, which the 2010 census newly designated as a “city of the first class,” meaning it has over 100,000 residents.

“Rochester is a city of the first class except when (Quam) doesn’t want it to be a city of the first class. It’s not just a historical, dusty artifact of statute. It’s political fun for people,” Davnie said. Both he and Greiling said they hoped to see no future legislation that would treat districts in cities of the first class differently from other districts.

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