Wednesday July 9, 2008
No Privatization for Nexus!
Mille Lacs News Staff Writer
There was a little blurb in the Mille Lacs Messenger a few
weeks ago which casually mentioned that Mille Lacs Academy will not be
privatized. You might have missed it. It was buried in an article by Diane
"Onamia, Nexus come to agreement." We've been
waiting for some sort of follow up on this story, but since it is bad news
for Nexus, the Pronexus Messenger once again failed to fully inform the public. That's what we're here for.
PRIVATIZATION: WHAT IT MEANS
Privatization of their school was one of the conditions Nexus
demanded be met in order for the juvenile sex offender facility to remain in
Onamia. Currently the adolescent sex offenders receive onsite education
through the Onamia public school system, which provides teachers and staff
to MLA. Nexus collects money from the sex offenders' home districts to pay
the Onamia school - about $10,000 per student per year. MLA has about 94
inmates and about nine in their group home. So we're talking roughly a
million dollars that Nexus must pay to the Onamia school system per year.
If Nexus was allowed to privatize their school, they would
take over the hiring of teachers and staff, who would be, according to
Nexus, non-union workers. (Being non-union could present a difference in
salary and benefits, allowing Nexus to pay what they want, not what they
have to.) Instead of having to pay the approximate million dollars to
the Onamia school district, Nexus would keep the money themselves.
Nexus has privatized schools at two of their other
institutions, including Gerard Academy in Austin, Minnesota. The Minnesota
Department of Education has said that the privatization model used at the
Gerard Academy is not state-compliant. Also, there have been some
difficulties in over-seeing Nexus' private program.
While privatization might be financially beneficial to Nexus,
it would be detrimental to Onamia students. This may be one reason why
Onamia school superintendent John Varner opposed the privatization of the
Mille Lacs Academy. The significantly lowered student count would impact the
amount of Federal money currently available to the Onamia school district.
If Nexus was allowed to privatize, approximately 15 school
employees who currently work at Mille Lacs Academy through the public school
system would be out of a job. Nexus had stated that they intended to hire
some of these same people, however these workers are currently employed
not by MLA but by the Onamia school district. They would have to quit or
be let go from their Onamia jobs in order to switch over to a non-unionized
MLA position. Also, with 60 % of MLA employees living outside of the county,
and with gas at $4 per gallon, they might be hard-pressed to find workers to
commute for non-union wages or benefits.
In order to qualify for property tax abatement in the city of
Onamia, sixteen new jobs were to be created. Nexus proposed that the 15 jobs
currently held at the Onamia school qualify as new jobs created by Nexus. Of
course, that would mean a loss of 15 jobs and the transfer (not the
creation) of those jobs. However, only one new position of school principal
would have been created.
Likewise, Nexus' proposed job creation while applying for
property tax abatement with Mille Lacs County was dependent upon
privatization of their school.
Without privatization of Nexus' school, the jobs necessary to
meet qualifications for tax abatement - both at the city and county levels -
are non-existent. If the Onamia city council and the Mille Lacs board of
county commissioners are paying attention, they can now withdraw the tax
abatements due to Nexus' failure to meet the standard requirements of
creating the new jobs. The property taxes which Nexus would be forced to pay
would be a huge asset to the community. Since Nexus has committed to
building in Onamia, these taxes would be one bullet that Nexus would have to
If the recent bankruptcy of Izaty's has taught us one thing,
it should be that tax abatements don't work in the long run. This is a huge
opportunity for our local leaders to make smart decisions concerning Nexus
and their property taxes. After all, despite their threats of leaving, Nexus
is still here. They are well into the excavation of the 38.81 acres. They're
not going anywhere, even if they have to pay taxes now.
According to plans for the sex offender institution, parts of
the administration building such as classrooms and offices are set up for
the anticipated private school, which are, of course, tax exempt. Having
privatization denied could mean that less area would be exempt, with more
area taxed - which would be good for the community as well. Whereas the
inmates, except for those in the group home, must continue to be taught away
from the mainstream, only part of Nexus' plans will probably have to change.
They will still get some property tax relief. The sex offenders in the group
home will continue to mingle with the regular student body.
Onamia, Nexus come to agreement?
Hardly. Nexus demanded privatization. When Nexus was denied,
(something we just don't see every day,) their reaction
was to demand that the Onamia school district then pay rent to Nexus. Think about
it... Nexus demands more of our tax dollars for Onamia public school faculty and
staff to rent their new building for teaching Mille Lacs Academy sex offenders who
wouldn't be here if not for Nexus. At the rate of $23 per student per day,
that really adds up. With 94 students that is $51,888 per month. With a
twelve month Mille Lacs Academy school year, that amounts to over a half
million dollars in RENT.
Hopefully, Nexus will be denied that too. Somewhere, a line
must be drawn which Nexus can't cross.