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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Hopes aired for new legislative session at board meeting

Catie Clark
Posted 12/15/22

ELY- The prospects for the upcoming legislative session highlighted Monday night’s meeting of the ISD 696 school board here. The meeting proceeded with a quorum of four as members Chad Davis …

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Hopes aired for new legislative session at board meeting


ELY- The prospects for the upcoming legislative session highlighted Monday night’s meeting of the ISD 696 school board here. The meeting proceeded with a quorum of four as members Chad Davis and Rochelle Sjoberg were absent.
The meeting included the district’s Truth in Taxation hearing, which attracted no taxpayer comment. At the end of the hearing, Jeff Anderson of the Costin Group Inc. summarized last year’s disappointing legislative session and speculated on the prospects for more funding in 2023.
“So, 2022, I think we can safely say (it) was a disappointing year,” said Anderson. “In St. Paul, very little was accomplished.”
He said two items in particular were disappointments for the region after negotiations broke down at the end sending lawmakers home without a final resolution.
First, he said, was the extension of the nickel production tax that has been funding the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s school consolidation and collaboration account. That is the account that helped send $7 million to the Ely district for its most recent facilities project. “That extension was in (the bill) for another 20 years, which would allow the fund to stay in the black and then also allow for future school projects to tap into that.”
The other item was a form a relief for school districts like Ely with construction projects either in progress or ready to start. “The other part of that bill that would have been a benefit to the Ely district as well as several other school districts in northeastern Minnesota was an exemption on sales tax for construction materials for projects like the one here in Ely,” Anderson said. Depending on the scale of the project, the tax exemption could save districts hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, he said.
Legislative outlook
The incoming legislature tilts toward the DFL, Anderson said. “The House is 70 to 64 in terms of (DFL) party control and the Senate 34 to 33. You should also note that there’s 47 new House members and 23 new senators, (which is) the highest turnover in 50 years.”
Anderson noted that the former chair of the DFL-led House Education Finance Committee, Jim Dabney, and his counterpart in the Senate, Republican Roger Chamberlain, didn’t exactly agree on how to fund education.
“These two gentlemen (were) ideologically very far apart and did not get along,” Anderson explained. “It caused for some very interesting conference committees towards the end of session. And ultimately, the DFL was pushing for an increase in the general education formula, and spending in a number of areas in education didn’t go anywhere. The Republicans wouldn’t agree. So that was one of the sticking points at the end, I think led to the fact that the tax bill and bonding bill did not make it over the finish line.”
Dabney has since retired from the Legislature and Chamberlain lost his reelection bid, so their personal differences shouldn’t stand in the way of agreement this year, according to Anderson. With the DFL now in full control of the Legislature, and a DFL governor, Anderson said he anticipates that education will receive the funding it should have gotten from last session’s failed tax bill.
“This particular session,” Anderson added, “and with a $17.6 billion budget surplus, there are funds, especially one-time funds, to be used as the Legislature prepares for next year. I would say that the top two things that we hear in education circles is an increase of the formula, five percent (for) general education increase. The second is the state fully funding the special education subsidy. Talking to other districts, I know those two things alone would really improve financial stability and health in most school districts in the state of Minnesota.”
Anderson added a caution about funding education in the upcoming session: “We still have challenges, no doubt, because - I don’t know if you’ve noticed- but ever since the budget surplus has continued to rise, I think along the lines of people seeking dollars for their programs or projects is growing deeper and deeper.”
EPA paperwork burdens
In other business, board member Tony Colarich asked about the status of the one-time grant for work on the waterline at the district’s schools. “(There was a one-time) Environmental Protection Agency grant for all the extra blasting and everything we had to do to replace the waterline and if I’m not mistaken, there was $245,000 that was granted, but there was some additional paperwork that needed to be see completed. Do you have an update?”
Anderson said the grant was awarded, and the work was done before the EPA finalized the rules for the grant program. “It has to be administered through the agency and it took them actually a year to develop the rules in terms of which and how it will be administered. Now we have to go through that process. And for this project in particular it’s very detailed because the work has been done already. So, you have to be able to go back and make sure everything fits into the boxes that the federal government dictates they do.”
Anderson stated that he and Harold Langowski, representing the city of Ely, and a representative from the engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. will be attending an upcoming seminar on how to complete the EPA’s paperwork requirements for the grant. Anderson also remarked that the paperwork requirements would be completed within the next 90 days.

Routine business
In other action, the board:
• Approved November 2022 receipts in the amount of $550,277.17 and disbursements in the amount of $1,534,719.84.
• Approved the 21st Century Facility Project overrun cost of $598,303 for additional rock removal and expenditures. 
• Adopted the maximum federal allowable per diem rates for meals and lodging for all district employee travel in 2023.
• Approved the hire of Paige Falt for the at-will Indigenous Support Interventionist position at $17 per hour for approximately six hours per day, five days per week, effective Nov. 30, 2022.
• Approved positions for the 2022-2023 season for Sarah Dunnom, assistant dance coach (stipend paid by High Kick Club) and Emmett Penke, volunteer assistant coach for girls basketball.
• Approved an agreement with the Costin Group Inc. for consulting services from Jan. 1, 2023 to Dec. 31, 2023, for $2,000 per month.
• Approved the donation of $3,000 from the Ely Jaycees for the Early Childhood Family Education program.
• Certified the Payable 2023 Levy of $2,224,762. This is a $138,851 or 6.7-percent increase from 2022. The increase was mostly due to adjustments based on the actual amounts of the previous year’s levy plus increases in health benefit costs.


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