A recent Open Forum contributor wrote a commentary that was very demeaning of school district administration as he questioned their ability to manage our school district's finances. The author wondered why district administration wasn't making accurate fiscal projections in advance of such financial dilemmas. Although this contributor's frustration is well grounded I feel compelled to explain that it is misplaced. Another Open Forum contributor asked several valid questions for which he wanted answers before deciding how he would vote on the referendum. Well, here are some factual answers for both gentlemen.
There are three basic mechanisms by which public schools receive their funding. Federal funding is available for some programs, and there are also state and local funding components to school revenues. In Minnesota, our legislators are elected to two or four year terms. Therefore, the amount of funding dedicated to schools changes with each election and is based on the political make up of the newly elected legislature. It is impossible for school districts to "long-range plan" (with any accuracy), although they try very hard to do so, since the school districts are dealing with differing funding amounts every two years. When federal and state funding (combined) is inadequate to meet the needs of the schools, the schools must make cuts, spend down reserve funds, or turn to local taxpayers for referendum votes to increase local funding.
In the past our school boards and upper administration tried to save some funds in reserve accounts for the "leaner" years. Some legislators took note of the school districts with budget reserves and commended that this was money that should have been spent on educating children and not saved. Members of the Legislature have stated that the state should not continue to raise E-12 public education funding since schools had been given enough to meet their needs and had enough of a surplus to place some funds in reserve. They pushed a funding agenda that did not give public schools any additional funding for several years and this was followed by two years of minuscule funding increases. Some members of the legislature have stated that times are tough so school reserves should be spent down, the state will provide some basic funding, and that it should be up to local taxpayers to fund the quality of education of the children in their communities. Therefore, because state funding was held constant, and the "fixed costs" of education our children rose; our school district was forced to make deep cuts and spend down the reserves.
Now the reserves are nearly gone and we are continuing to lose ground and further drastic cuts to the school district budget are looming. The school district must now exercise the final option in funding our public schools...turn to the local property tax owners for the funding necessary for a quality public education in our community. Nobody in our community should be expected to be pleased that we need a referendum to continue the fine tradition of a quality education in Brainerd Public Schools. However, to place the blame for this scenario on the back of school administration or the school board is simply unfair. The blame needs to fall on the shoulders of the legislators who supported this public education funding scenario.
To vote "no" on the referendum because you don't believe that local property taxpayers should be asked for more will only hurt the one group of people who had no voice in creating this crisis...the children of our community! This is the "hand we've been dealt" by our state government and now we must play it out. If we "fold" our children lose.
TIM EDINGER is a parent of a Nisswa elementary student, a small business operator, and an educator in the Brainerd School District.
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