Robert L. Hale, Minot
Is Minot striving to become the most expensive city in North Dakota in which to live? We already have a 2.5 percent local option sales tax and some of the highest property taxes around. Now the Minot School Board wants to unnecessarily strap hard-working families with more debt.
Yes, unnecessarily. Supt. Mark Vollmer is aware there is no need to saddle property owners in Minot with a dime in new property taxes. Unfortunately, he doesn't care and in fact when the option to not use property taxes to obtain the money to fund new schools was presented he arrogantly dismissed it.
North Dakota's Constitution requires the state to provide a free common school (i.e. K-12) education to all children in our state. This isn't an option. The state has over many decades convinced school districts to use property taxes to fund school buildings. This might make sense if there was not money readily available and constitutionally earmarked to build schools and fund their operation.
When the state came into being two sections in each township was put in what is known as the Common Schools Trust. Today this trust has 635,012 surface acres and 1,527,059 mineral acres. As of 12/31/11 the fund also had more than $1.6 billion almost 85 percent of which is invested in Wall Street stocks and bonds. The Common Schools Trust currently has more than $2 billion in cash and that amount is growing at half a billion annually. In 2011 the Common Schools Trust took in more than $135,269,628 in royalty income. In addition there are millions more coming in from surface rents.
Fewer than $20 million (less than .01 percent of the total) is being used to do what this fund was created to do fund and maintain our schools. Instead it has been invested in Wall Street and we property owners are being taxed out of our homes.
It's time North Dakota uses these dollars to do what they have been constitutionally established to do pay for building and maintaining our schools.
Why isn't this being done? Because those who are responsible to use these funds simply refuse to use them as they are obligated to do. Who are "those who are responsible"? The governor, the members of the Legislature, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Board of the School Lands Trusts are the responsible parties.
When confronted, legislators tell us this money can't be used for schools. They tell us it must be "saved." This is a fiction and is absolutely untrue. Hundreds of millions are invested in stocks and bonds through Wall Street, unfortunately not in bonds for our own schools.
We're then told that if this money were used to build our schools there wouldn't be any money to pay the bonds off. This again is absolutely untrue. Royalties alone provide income sufficient to fund more than $3 billion in bonds (i.e. 4.2 percent of what Minot schools seek). These misers tell us that if the income dries up we couldn't pay off the bonds. So what? We have the schools! When I asked these folks what happens when Wall Street takes a dive and 40 percent of its value evaporates as it did in 2009 what do we have. Their response was akin to a deer that's been caught in the headlights.
So, how do we stop the nonsense going on and require the Common School Trust be used as it should? We emphatically say "no" to unnecessary bonds and direct our elected officials to properly manage our School Land Trusts.
If they refuse, take them to court. Williston took the state to court to get equal funding for school operations when the state realized it would lose, it stepped up and did what is should have been doing all along. It's Minot's turn to do the same regarding funding of our common school buildings. The entire state will benefit our children will benefit the most.