Districts seek more production from school trust land

Iron Range newsIf you ever get tired of trying to figure out how the IRRRB works, another unique foible of Minnesota’s relationship with iron mining is the state school trust fund. About 2.5 million acres of land, primarily in Northern Minnesota, are set aside to raise funds for school districts throughout the state. Some of this land includes mineral rights, other land involves timber or other resources.

This Kim McGuire story in the Star Tribune shows that school districts around Minnesota are pressuring Gov. Mark Dayton to appoint a leader to the school trust fund, someone to work on making the land produce more money for schools.

A spokesman for Dayton said Monday that the appointment should occur in early January.

Trust advocates are hopeful the appointment will occur then, but remain skeptical given the trust’s long, arduous legislative path so far.

The land, mostly in northeastern Minnesota, was set aside almost 150 years ago by the state’s forefathers with the stipulation that any proceeds from the property would benefit schoolchildren.

The parcels have historically been managed by the Department of Natural Resources, which has been accused of not doing enough to increase the trust’s dollars.

McGuire writes that “interest and dividends from school trust lands in Minnesota generated about $24 million in 2014” and that “schools currently receive about $29 per pupil on an annual basis.”

I see two takeaways here. First, it’s a reminder of the profound impact that Northern Minnesota’s resources have had and continue to have on the whole state, not just our region. Second, I am reminded of a conversation I had while researching last week’s post about Iron Range communities and the expansion of mining in the footprint of existing communities. There remains a health chunk of state school trust fund land at the edge of Keewatin that, if mined, would generate many millions for the state. Land like this sits all over the region, including at the edge of some of the state’s nonferrous projects.

If state school districts think that appointing a director to lead efforts to raise money for schools through this land will help, what do you think that new director will see as the biggest opportunities to do so?

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