The Isanti City Council heard a presentation by Superintendent Dr. Nate Rudolph, Director of Finances and Operations Chris Kampa, and community member Nick Izzo regarding the current Independent School District (ISD) 911 referendum that will be on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Following the presentation, Mayor Jeff Johnson commended the group on what they were left with by the previous school administration, and what they are doing to turn things around.
“I don’t have to sugar-coat like you do,” Johnson said. “You were left a pile of turds when you became the superintendent, and you’re pretty much being told to polish it and make it look pretty. That’s not going to happen unless everybody realizes you need a little push – maybe handed a pooper scooper, let’s put it that way.”
Although he hears people in the community asking, “Why should we give them more money?” he said he believes this administration will be able to do great things if given the chance by passing the referendum.
“I will gladly go vote for this referendum,” he added.
City Council Member Jimmy Gordon said he agreed with Johnson that the current administration was handed a tough situation, but added that he thought this was more of a state issue with regards to how school funding was structured at that level.
“You kind of got the short end of the stick and I understand that there’s some money that the state is going to match if we have a referendum,” he said. “But, I guess, what would be my main point, is you have schools like Community Christian School in Cambridge, and I think their budget per pupil is like $6,700 and you guys are more at like $12,000. Maybe that’s changed now with some of the cuts, and I know you have some services that you offer, but education is the main service that we’re talking about providing for these students. And you’re going to tell me it takes $5,000 more per student to educate them?”
Kampa explained that Community Christian School doesn’t have some of the same expense requirements as ISD 911, such as providing transportation for all students, which is quite a big part of the district’s budget.
Gordon interrupted him to ask about the issues with the busing and kids not getting home until 5:30 p.m. Kampa admitted having a rough rollout, noting that the district was down 12 routes without drivers and had to scramble to redesign the entire system right before the start of school. He explained those issues seem to have been resolved.
He continued to explain there are additional financial requirements for public school districts in Minnesota than for private schools or other types of schools, noting that impacts the budget.
“I grew up here, graduated from high school here. I always reflect back to my past experiences,” he said, noting he was always taught and believes this is a great school district that rallies around education and teachers. “We still have that, but so much has changed, because things are so much different in terms of how schools are funded over the last 20 years. For example, our community members, if you’ve lived in your house 20 years, you paid more in school taxes then than you pay now on a dollar-per-dollar basis, and it’s really changed how schools are funded.”
He explained that when school districts began asking for referendums, it was called an excess levy because it was meant to be supplemental to a district’s budgeting process.
“But, that’s not the case anymore,” Kampa continued. “School districts, especially school districts like ours in rural communities like this, don’t have a large business tax base. A referendum is really just crucial to compete with the other school districts. It’s become a needed part of the budgeting process. I never thought in a million years that I would be in a position to advocate for a tax increase, but really, now that I’ve spent two years here, I feel that it’s really important and it’s what the school district needs in order to provide for our students.
Izzo commended the new school administration on its positivity and openness as it has navigated the situation which it inherited. He encouraged anyone who had questions regarding the referendum to reach out to the current administration and ask questions about how the money will be used.
“This is an administration who is willing to be held accountable, and you’ve seen that through some of these task forces they have put together,” Izzo said, noting community members have been involved in advising the new administration regarding the referendum and financing of the district. “Their sole purpose in what they are doing is to educate our children and to build our communities.”
“We talked about taxes being raised. We need to throw that terminology out, because this is an investment, a $120 investment annually, for ourselves and in our communities,” he continued. “If you want to get selfish, it is an investment in ourselves, because if we’re in a good community, people are going to want to move here. Our economy climbs. And if that happens, our home values go up quite a bit, no matter what the current state of the national economy is.”
ISANTI LIQUOR STORE GRAND OPENING
The council approved a special event permit for the grand opening of the Isanti Liquor Store, which is scheduled to take place Thursday, Nov. 18 through Saturday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Activities at the new store will take place in the parking lot and inside the store, and there will be food trucks and inflatables setup on site.
It is expected that about 2,100 people will attend the event over the three days.