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Proposal would give school boards authority to renew expiring referendums

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

School boards could gain the authority to renew reoccurring, no-increase school district referendums in much the same way city councils and county boards have authority over ongoing levies.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), HF116 would give school districts the ability to renew existing operating referendums by a vote of the school board, rather than by voter approval.

The bill was approved 12-8 on a roll-call, party-line vote by the House Education Finance Division Thursday and now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee. Its companion, SF109, awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) is the sponsor.

Under current law, operating referendums are valid for up to 10 years, at which point a school board must seek voter approval to renew the referendum.

To qualify for an extension under this proposal, the renewed referendum would need to be identical to the expiring one. Additionally, school boards would be required to hold a meeting, open to public testimony, prior to the renewal, and then adopt a written resolution authorizing it.

House Education Finance Division (Remote Hearing) 4/23/20

The bill was originally heard by the division last session. No additional testimony was taken during Thursday’s remote meeting.

Referencing previous testimony and information from nonpartisan House fiscal staff, Freiberg noted that, over the past four years, expiring, unchanged, no-increase referendums were approved for renewal by voters 100% of the time.

The proposed legislation would offer districts several benefits including election cost and labor savings, as well as more financial predictability and stability for districts, which during this time of COVID-19, Freiberg said, is all the more needed.

“I feel that this bill is particularly important now. Many school districts are facing serious budgetary problems related to the current pandemic and it does not make sense to require them to further strain their finances by holding unnecessary elections,” he said. 

Republican division members voiced opposition to the bill, saying that it would take local control away from voters, and could put an added economic strain on residents and businesses.  

“In a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, I think we have to also be concerned not only with the schools, which I think we all are, but also the voters and their uncertain economic times as well,” said Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove).

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