Herald and Journal, July 5, 1999

Legislature rescinds grant that could have helped local school districts

By Luis Puga

As House File 2333 was signed in mid-May, the Minnesota state legislature closed the door on a $6 million grant that has been on the minds of local school districts.

The secondary facilities grant was officially rescinded in the state's omnibus k-12 policy and appropriations bill.

While Lester Prairie School District has told the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) district that it is not interested in consolidating, the matter is still one of concern for rural districts.

HLWW Superintendent Riley Hoheisel, who first reported the state's action at HLWW's last board meeting feels some framework to support school consolidation is needed in general.

"I believe there has to be a vehicle available in the state of Minnesota, such as the secondary facilities grant, to provide additional incentive and support (to school districts)," he said.

State Representative Tony Kielkucki agrees, so much so that he will be trying to reinstate the secondary facilities grant. Kielkucki said that he has already began that process.

He believes such monies are needed because rural districts are facing a numbers crunch with declining populations and need assistance of that kind.

So why and how did the grant get rescinded?

According to Kielkucki, the formal framework for the monies was done away in a Senate conference committee. As the committee revised the bill at the late hour of 4 a.m., the framework for the monies was most likely cancelled due to a budgetary concern.

Exactly what the Senate committee's concern was is uncertain. While the framework was cancelled, the intent is not clear since a provision was passed to grant a secondary facility grant for a southwestern school district.

Sources at the capitol say that the intent of the senate committee was to overhaul the entire system for granting districts facility improvement money.

One such possibility is to change from a grant system to a levy system, where a portion of facility monies would be paid by local effort.

However, due to the late date of the committee's work on the bill, such a change was put on hold.

The framework itself is not the only avenue available to a district for state monies.

Bill Kiesow, an education finance specialist, said that districts have the ability to petition special legislation for grant monies for facilities.

One measure currently being discussed by the Lester Prairie School board would qualify as an example. As the district seeks to solve current space problems, much discussion has been given to a new elementary facility.

As of now, any elementary facility would have no official framework for state aid. However, the district could obtain aid via special legislation.

What ultimately becomes of facility grants remains to be seen. Kielkucki said his measure to re-instate the secondary facilities grant will have to wait until next year's legislative session.

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