by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School Board got a boost from the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce at its meeting on Monday.
Debbi Rydberg, the executive director of the chamber, relayed that the Chamber Board approve a resolution in support of the district’s legislative platform at its previous monthly meeting.
The Elk River Area School District’s legislative platform calls for adequate funding, metro equity revenue, a permanent transfer from the district’s debt redemption fund and compensatory education revenue.
“A strong and vibrant public education system is an important factor in both economic development and workforce development,” Rydberg told the School Board.
Rydberg said it’s the desire of the Chamber Board to add their voice to the concerns of the Elk River Area School Board and Legislative Action Team that funding for student education be distributed evenly across the state.
“Every student matters, regardless of their address,” she said.
The Chamber’s resolution pays special attention to the district’s platform of support for equalizing and providing adequate funding that does not call for a tax increase.
“For that we applaud you,” Rydberg said.
Rydberg went on to say the school district has shown it is capable of making the most of the dollars is has. But because of its geographic location, that funding is $990 less per student compared to the state average and $1,750 less than the 20 largest metro districts.
“The need is the same,” Rydberg said. “Equalizing funding will help the district balance their budget and not force a property tax increase.
“Such increases, as you are well aware, impact businesses exponentially due to the state’s formula of property taxes that adds a multiplier to business property taxes.”
Superintendent Mark Bezek and School Board Chair Jane Bunting made their case on four district bills to Senate and House education committees on March 5. The bills, addressing permanent transfer from debt reduction and metro equity, are now being considered for inclusion in the Omnibus Education bill.
The two testified on SF 520, HF 830, SF 618 and HF 831 to the Senate Education Policy Committee and the House Education Finance Committee. The companion bills (one each for the Senate and House) seek to transfer money the district already has, but is restricted from using, and to receive additional funding for Elk River Area School District students living in two of seven counties that receive additional funding that this district currently does not.
Bezek and Bunting were joined by sponsors Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River.
“We’re hoping this (chamber support) will help you in your efforts down at the Capitol, and if there’s anything else we could do please let us know,” Rydberg said.
“Wow!” Bunting said and then went on to thank Rydberg and the Elk River Chamber for its support.
“The bottom line is when we get partnerships like this developing, it does mean more down at the legislature,” Bunting said.
Bezek told Rydberg he has been on a mission to meet with 25 businesses, and he has targeted chamber businesses.
“I have met with a dozen so far and they have been exceptional people,” Bezek said. He said he senses an increasing desire for partnership and collaboration between business and education.
“We’re stronger together than we are apart,” he said.
The Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1966, represents over 350 local businesses is the single organization that advocates, educates and promotes area business.