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Education/Farm Paradigm Shift

This letter is paid content. As I was out for a walk the other day, I started thinking about the upcoming District 518 referendum vote on November 5th and the past 4 failed ones and wondered what was different this time around. Enrollment is not declining, the projections are looking accurate and all of our buildings are still bursting at the seams.

Then I started thinking from the perspective of the farmers and with the tough cycle we have been through as a largely farm community the past few years due to a number of factors beyond our control. Just what does this referendum look like compared to the past ones? So I asked the question of someone who could answer it, the number crunchers that District 518 has access to.

I feel like I am fairly up to speed on the details of the referendum, but I have to admit that I was shocked by what I learned. Here is what I learned, as an example I looked at Ag Homestead land with a modest valuation of $7,000 per acre. When we were looking at building a new high school in 2016, the increase would have been $7.35 per acre. This past Spring when we looked at building a 3 grade intermediate school the increase would have been $1.62 per acre. Now the current proposal has 2 questions about the building, the first is for a grade 4 and 5 building, the second question would also add in 3rd grade to the building making a 3 grade building to accommodate 900 students for $26.7M (including $6M buydown from district fund balance). A third question is also included on the ballot that would convert lease levy dollars into bond dollars and this is important as this would allow these to be included in the newly expanded Ag2School program that our state legislature just enacted this past session. In simplest terms, the state legislature heard the plight of the ag community and the education community about the share of building bond referendums that fell on ag land owners making it VERY difficult to pass these measures in largely rural areas. The state legislature voted to increase the state contribution to 50% of the total on ag land for the year 2020 and increasing to 70% of the total by the year 2023!

So what does this do to the current referendum numbers? If all 3 questions would pass, on the same $7,000 per acre piece of ag homestead land for taxes payable in 2020 would be $0.99 per acre and in the year 2023 that would decline to $0.16 per acre! Yes that is correct, 16 cents per acre. If you look at this like I did you will question the math as it appears closer to an 83% reduction and that is correct when you factor in any past bonds being included in this new reduction as well as interest rate savings.

I am not usually one for using a lot of big words but I think this calls for it. This to me is a “paradigm shift”. The definition of paradigm shift is “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions”. To me this should serve to end the struggle between anyone who owns ag land and is asked to consider supporting a much needed school building bond referendum to benefit entire communities.

One other very important factor in all of this is that whether you own ag land or not, I urge you to be community minded and vote yes on all 3 measures even though the 3rd question will only serve to lessen the burden on ag land….because that’s what strong communities do, they vote for the betterment of ALL in the community.

Jason Turner

Worthington, MN