Metro School Board Members Voice Displeasure with Proposed K-12 Funding

Group calls for end of funding disparities between urban, rural school districts.

Eight metro area school board members—representing 42 fellow school board members from the Twin Cities metro area and St. Cloud—voiced major opposition to the proposed cuts and funding shifts made by the Minnesota Legislature for K-12 public education.

“We find it unacceptable to pit school districts and students against each other because the legislative proposal results in wide variations in funding allocated to districts,” said Peyton Robb, a member of the Edina School board.

At a news conference Thursday, June 9, outside of , the eight met with the media to reiterate a position taken by the 42. They called for a more balanced approach, increased revenues combined with spending cuts and drew attention to the large disparities in funding allocations and reductions in funding streams.

“We are very concerned about large cuts targeted at the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and St. Cloud schools as well as most of the metro are suburban school districts,” Robb added. “At the same time, rural and charter schools are not among those districts being cut and—in fact—are seeing per pupil aid increased.”

Natalie Fedie, a member of the Stillwater School Board, said a recent offer from the Republican majority in the Legislature to put back $80 million into K-12 funding was misleading because “it is not new revenue, but simply cuts from other programs.”

“If those cuts are in health and human services programs, then that doesn’t benefit any of us,” Fedie said.

The 42 school board members signed and sent a letter to legislative leadership last week expressing a myriad of concerns and arguments for re-thinking how the funding is presently being structured.

“School districts have borne the brunt of the accounting shifts over the past eight years to solve other budget deficits and districts would be forced into an even greater reliance on voter approved operating levies under this legislative proposal,” said Robb. “Districts have already had to borrow $416 million because of the shifts to meet monthly payrolls.”

He added that while fully understanding the budget challenges facing the state, the proposed budget neither maintains K-12 funding nor does it hold Minnesota children harmless when it comes to budget cuts.

Jim Gelbmann, a board member from the South Washington County School District—made up of communities like Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Newport—said his district has been “hesitant to innovate and plan because we don’t know if we will have the resources to continue new programs or innovative processes.”

“I have been on the board for 16 years and each year I have seen a decline in state commitment,” Gelbmann said.

Asked about a possible shutdown if no budget agreement is made by the end of this month, he said school districts will truly feel the ramifications of that once the next school year starts in late summer, “although there could be several who will be hit hard before then.”

John Hoffman, vice chair of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, summed up the feeling of those present and all of the districts they represent.

“It is a slow death, 1,000 cuts at a time.”

David F June 11, 2011 at 03:21 AM
Most educational experts agree that the US is loosing ground against the educational systems of many countries including the new economic powerhouses India and China. There is an obvious reason that military experts expect China to be an equal military power to the US in less than 10 years. You can bicker and argue about numbers and funding formulas but the bottom line is the US is moving in the direction of having a second class educational system. Our standard of living and national security rely on a strong educational system.
Randy Marsh June 11, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Alright, time for me to get some sleep, but just wanted to address Rachel's comment about the state's funding problem. We actually agree in some ways and I am anything but a tax and spend liberal. My point is that the state would have more money to fund education if it wasn't funneling all the money away from public schools to all of these charter schools when many public schools have more than enough room to accomodate those students. It's nothing more than a duplication of services. The oversight you mention unfortunately has come far too late to save the taxpayers from the many corrupt charters, including St. Croix Prep, which have wasted so much of our tax dollars prior to the recent reforms pushed primarily by our own Sen. Kathy Saltzman. As for David, I have a question about those unnamed education experts you cite who are somehow comparing the education systems in different countries. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but don't those countries that always seem to rank so high benefit by not even allowing the lower or underperforming students to attend school past a certain age? I certainly don't think they take into account special needs students so aren't we really comparing apples to oranges in light of those omissions? This isn't to say I don't have issues with our education system and its enless appetite for our tax dollars, but unless this is not the case, I don't think those comparisons hold water.
Kris Janisch June 11, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Thanks for the engaged discussion everyone, and bringing it back to topic. It's like boxing, you're trying to get some shots in, but as the ref says: Keep it clean.
Jim Gelbmann June 13, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Just want to clarify my comments at the Press Conference and respond to Rachel. Actually, we have done fairly well in South Washington County and currently hold a $17 million general fund balance. Unfortunately, we can't afford to spend that balance on possible innovations since we can't count on the State to continue its Constitutional responsibility for funding an equal and adequate education for all children. The only reason we are doing so well in South Washington County is due to the generosity of our taxpayers, who have passed multiple operating and construction referendums during my tenure on the Board. We were forced to pass those referendums as we saw our state revenues fail to keep pace with inflation. Unfortunately, our property taxpayers can't afford to continue this model of funding K-12 education. The quality of a child's education should not be dependant upon the property wealth within the district he or she lives, nor should it be dependant upon the residents of the district to support supplemental operating levies for their schools.
David F June 13, 2011 at 03:01 PM
From what I have seen every district is cutting back from falling real estate values and less state funding. Even districts like Jim has mentioned that in the past passed local referendums to help with funding these referendums are becoming more difficult to get on the ballot. These local referendums only fuels the fire for state legislators who want no new taxes at the state level only to push the burden down to local property tax. We compete in a global market and as much as I don’t approve of the have and have nots system in most of the world we still have to compete with them. I don’t approve of the environmental damage, child labor, one child law, and the corrupt communism in China but unfortunately I have no choice to buy Chinese products that flood the US and US industry has to compete with in every industry.


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