Happy New Year! As we turn the calendar on a new year, we begin planning for the year ahead with both hope and somewhat anxious anticipation. Here are some things on my mind as I look ahead to 2022 and what it could mean for our schools.

Legislative session

The legislative session begins on January 31. This is a non-budgetary session, but the recent announcement of a $7.7 billion surplus may change the dynamics. Our hope is for legislators to address some long-term financial issues for schools, including those noted below.

Employee shortage

Just like many other industries, we have an employee shortage and ongoing competition to recruit staff at every level. Shortages in custodial staff and educational support staff have been the two areas of highest concerns. Due to rising wages in many areas, we need additional long-term funding to be competitive as we do our best to recruit and retain quality staff.

Property tax equity

This item has long been on the list of annual legislative priorities. Our local taxpayers currently pay more for local school funding than other communities because our district has a limited tax base and the tax system unfairly provides more relief for some school districts over others. For instance, the same school operating levy request that costs Owatonna homeowners $120/year, may cost $20/year in other districts. While we were thrilled with the recent Ag2School tax reform that greatly reduced agricultural landowners’ taxes for bond requests, this tax relief does not provide any of our taxpayers with relief for operating levies — now or in the future. We will continue to seek tax relief that helps to equalize the tax burden for our residents, makes a fairer system and supports our talented staff and amazing students.

No more mandates

We continue to ask the legislature to reduce the number of mandates on public school districts and give us more local control to do what best fits our community. Most mandates do not include funding for their implementation — and their additional financial and personnel needs outpace our current budgets. This adds additional pressure to budgets already stressed by increasing student needs, state funding not keeping pace with inflation and long-term impacts from the pandemic.

Working in partnership

I am proud to work with both Senator Jasinski and Representative Petersburg to advocate for our students, families and community to build a better Owatonna. I look forward to regular contact with our legislators during the 2022 session.

If we work side by side, we can ensure that the future will get brighter each day. On behalf of over 800 Owatonna Public Schools’ staff, I thank you for your continued support and understanding. We are all in this together, and we are #OwatonnaProud.

Jeff Elstad is superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools. Reached him at 444-8610 or at jelstad@owatonna.k12.mn.us.

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