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Column: Good news for homeowners in Worthington school district

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By JOHN LANDGAARD, District 518

WORTHINGTON — Homeowners of the Worthington School District should find a pleasant surprise when they open their 2014 Property Tax Statements. They will see a reduction in school taxes due to equalization enacted by the Legislature last year. A homeowner with a property valued at $150,000 is expected to see taxes go down by about $78.

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Minnesota has a 40-year history of equalizing property taxes for educating children. Equalization means that for a certain level of dollars per child to assist in their education, taxpayers pay the same percentage of home value statewide up to a certain home value (the equalization factor). In other words, regardless of zip code, children get the same opportunity to learn, and taxpayers pay the same percentage of home value in property taxes.

The equalization factor had not changed in the state in over a decade, while voter approved operating referendum dollar amounts had more than doubled. The result was increasing taxpayer inequity.

“Poorer valued communities were paying a higher percentage of home value to provide the same dollars per child to educate the children of the community, than wealthier communities,” states Fred Nolan, executive director of Minnesota Rural Education Association, a statewide educational association representing nearly 180 Greater Minnesota school districts.

The 2013 legislature addressed this by equalizing the first $300 of operating referendum revenue per child at $880,000 of Referendum Market Value (RMV) per pupil. That is a 72 percent increase over the previous highest level of equalization factor.

Sen. Rod Skoe led the Senate Tax Committee to devote $60 million of state revenue to this effort to equalize the tax effort of homeowners across Minnesota.

“This marked the single largest advance in education funding equity in Minnesota in a decade,” Nolan said. “This will narrow the 5th to 95th gap to its smallest since 2003.”

While most of the funding for educating children comes right from state income and sales taxes, the Worthington School Board is most appreciative of our voter support for voter approved referendums that are critical to providing our quality education. As a result of the action of the 2013 legislature, our total district property taxes dropped $360,943 and were replaced with state aid. That is the reason you should see a reduction in your school property taxes.

The Worthington School Board, during its December meeting, approved moving forward with a November 2014 election to ask voters to approve a new excess operating referendum at a similar amount to the current operating referendum (current legislative changes will make it look different than the $1,000 per pupil referendum). The voters in November will see a question asking for this similar amount to maintain current educational opportunities for students. We will be encouraging all residents to be actively involved in the upcoming election in order to have the most accurate information. In the next few months you will see this information become available to help explain the request.

Since the system is not perfect, if you had an increase in home or land value, you will probably see a tax increase. Property taxes are a percent of the value of property, not a percentage of income.

MREA is the only advocate exclusively for Greater Minnesota schools. Under the leadership of school board members, administrators, teachers and community members, MREA focuses on what puts the education, growth and development of learners first to bring about our best possible future. You can learn more about MREA at MnREA.org.

John Landgaard is District 518’s superintendent.

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