MINNEAPOLIS -- School districts throughout Minnesota are preparing to pare their budgets by cutting teachers, coaches and programs, even though the economy is strong and there is a state budget surplus.
Several factors are behind the adjustments, including rising fuel costs and decreasing enrollment in several greater Minnesota districts, said Bob Lowe, associate director of management services for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
''It's a little hard to use this as anything more than a benchmark for the future, but it does tell us that we have a number of districts that are suffering predicted revenue reductions,'' Lowe said.
At least one state lawmaker thinks there's another reason: teacher salaries. Packages approved by districts earlier this year gave teachers an average salary bump of 10 percent over the next two years.
''To me, it's perfectly clear what the problem is. Most districts settled contracts for a higher price than they could afford,'' said Rep. Ken Wolf, R-Burnsville. ''We gave them a ton of money and they spent it on contracts and salaries, and the trade off is they end up with reduced programs and fewer teachers.''
Last year, the Legislature set aside $8 billion for schools for a two-year period.
According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, 61 percent of the districts that responded to a recent survey are planning reductions in some form.
The Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan School District reported that it plans to cut 66 full-time equivalent teaching jobs, the most in the state. The St. Paul School District reported the largest projected financial cut, $11 million, according to the surveys.
The Austin School Board eliminated 50 positions Wednesday, including 10 teachers, saving the district more than $750,000, said Superintendent James Hess. Also Wednesday, the Fergus Falls School District voted to reduce its budget by $1.36 million. That will cost the district about 24 full-time equivalent teaching positions, and some class sizes will increase.
The Winona School Board, meeting in a packed City Hall council chamber Thursday night, approved resolutions to terminate the contracts of 57 non-tenured teachers for next year and place on unrequested leave one administrator and five tenured teachers.
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