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Need a better way to finance new schools

Two articles involving school referendums and how they affect farmers were published in Monday’s edition.

One of the articles was originally generated from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and shared by the Associated Press. It featured the $34 million bond school referendum on Tuesday’s election ballot in Worthington. The article reports overflowing classrooms, mostly caused by an influx of immigrants. Apparently, voter approval was not certain heading toward Tuesday’s election after five referendums failed since 2013.

The other article was generated by MinnPost and also shared by the Associated Press. It profiled a farmer who supported a $24 million Glencoe-Silver Lake Public Schools referendum in 2015. He’s grateful for the Legislature implementing ag credit two years later that will offset his tax bill by 60 percent.

The ag credit is the good news. But more school facilities need to be upgraded or replaced throughout the region and across the state. Many of these school buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 60s.

Here in Marshall, after attempts in 2016 and 2017 failed, voters approved a $29.8 million bond referendum last spring to replace West Side Elementary with a new facility and make upgrades to other facilities. Voters in the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton school district approved a referendum last spring to replace their schools with one modern facility. But it was a struggle.

Even with the ag credit, why is it such a struggle to convince voters to approve referendums to replace these aging facilities?

For starters, many of our farmers are feeling depressed about their futures. The Trump administration tariffs, low commodity prices and the erratic weather conditions have wreaked havoc on the agriculture industry here in the Midwest. Facing uncertain futures, even the smallest of tax increases scares them.

And the anxiety felt by farmers trickles down. Our Main streets reflect the successes and failures of the agriculture industry. Some of our smaller communities struggle to support their cafes, much less school sites. And the campaigns to pass referendums end up splintering communities — neighbor against neighbor.

The ag credit was definitely a step in the right direction for Minnesota. But legislators and our governor need to seek a better way to finance needed projects to replace aging schools.

The present system of passing bonds locally puts too much of a burden on local property owners.

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