We don’t need more schools

Robert Hale, Minot

Minot voters are being asked to unnecessarily tax themselves $125 million dollars for schools. Even if Minot needed new schools, it is the State’s constitutional duty to fully fund our schools. The state has the resources to do so, but refuses. It is our duty as citizens to make the State fulfill its mandate, not tax ourselves for what the state is already required to do.

In June 2013 Minot Public Schools said they would need approximately $32 million for schools. Since then the ‘need’ has ballooned to $125 million. The consulting firm that was hired to promote the campaign touted its ability to pass bond issues. Taxpayers paid for these consultants and the rhetoric we are now hearing. The bond measure that is proposed is unreasonable, irresponsible and unnecessary.

For example literature promoting the bond says it’s necessary because MPS ‘needs’ among other things $5.5 million for safety and security measures for our children. Really? MPS currently has $15 million in savings i.e. unallocated cash in a saving account. If our children’s safety and security is at risk why hasn’t it already been addressed? Why isn’t this savings being used now to ensure our children’s safety and security?

Proponents of the bond tell us: “If the Bond Election passes, your estimated Minot Public School monthly property taxes will be less than your estimated 2012 MPS monthly property taxes.” Does this mean if the Bond Election passes our property taxes will go down? Of course not, the truth is if the bond passes, your property taxes will go up significantly $460+ annually on a $200,000 home.

The questions are: 1. Does Minot need more schools either now or in five years? 2. If and when there is a need for schools, why aren’t they being funded with School Lands Trust revenue?

Minot Public School campaign literature states: “By 2018 all of our schools will be operating at or over capacity.” This is false. Average class size is currently 15 – 18. MPS figures show excess student capacity, at this class size, of 848 seats. Based on the average class size, MPS has 403 classrooms. Optimum class size for the purpose of maximizing learning in grades 4 12 is 25 based on the North Dakota Education Improvement Commission study published July 31, 2008.

By increasing our existing classrooms to optimum capacity, without additional building, MPS can accommodate an additional 2,821 more students. School attendance records show some schools are operating at capacity, others are below capacity. This is not a facility problem, it’s a management problem.

When additional or updated facilities are needed, where should the money come from? It should not be from property taxes. North Dakota has a School Lands Trust fund. The value of the land and mineral rights in this fund is approximately $9 billion. In addition the fund has $3.5 billion dollars in cash, approximately 98% of which is invested in vulnerable and risky Wall Street assets. Less than 2 percent is invested in North Dakota and virtually nothing is invested in our schools!

The School Lands Trusts were established for the benefit of our children’s education. These trusts are not being used for that purpose. It is clear we must force the Legislature and the Board of the School Lands Trust to meet their fiduciary duties and use these resources for our children’s education. As long as we allow the Legislature and the School Lands Trust Board, (superintendent of public instruction, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer), to refuse to meet their fiduciary duty, they won’t. Instead they will continue to demand we tax our homes and businesses to fund schools.

The State Constitution directs: “The legislative assembly shall provide for a uniform system of free public schools throughout the state.” The State is not constitutionally permitted to raise revenue through the imposition of property taxes.

The state, not local governmental bodies or school districts, is required to provide free public schools. The state is constitutionally prohibited from using property taxes to fund its mandates. The state has billions in land and mineral assets and billions more in cash. Yet, it refuses to use these resources for our schools. Even if the state had no trust lands or billions in cash in these funds, it has sales and income tax revenue to meet its constitutional school funding obligations.

It’s clear, unless we force the State to comply with its constitutional responsibilities it will not. If we continue to tax ourselves unnecessarily, the state will continue to salt away billions to gamble in Wall Street. It is time we convert the state’s Wall Street gambling funds into our children’s education funding.

There is no need to build schools in Minot. We have sufficient capacity. As for projected growth, our current schools have capacity to handle several thousand more students. Now is the worst time to build. Construction costs are at an all time high. They will be going down, not up, over the next few years.

Williston learned their projected 1,200 student boom turned out to be 200 students. Minot’s growth study published July 8, 2013, makes it clear the projections are at best guesses. The report states: “It is also important to note that the difficulty in being able to provide student data from year to year will impact the accuracy of the enrollment projections.” Such guesses are not a good reason to tax ourselves.

The State Legislature and the School Lands Trust Board have demonstrated they will not voluntarily do what they are mandated to do. Voting no on Dec. 10 is the only way to send a message to the Minot Public School Board to take steps to force the Legislature and the School Lands Trust Board to meet their constitutional mandate. That is, fully fund our schools or face legal action.