What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Schools get slight upgrade in credit rating

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: November 29, 2012 - 3:35 PM
Renovating scho9ols is one reason the district is borrowing money.

Renovating schools is one reason the district is borrowing money.

Going one for three isn't bad if you're Joe Mauer, and it will  have to satisfy Minneapolis Public Schools until the next tiume the district borrows money.

The district won an upgrade in its credit rating from Moody's Inverstors Service alone among the three raters who reviewed its creditworthiness before this week's borrowing.

Moody's raised the district's credit from Aa2 to Aa1, while Standard & Poor's Services and Fitch held their ratings at the current level, which is the equivalent to Moody's Aa1.

The value of a higher credit rating is paying slightly lower interest rates on the district's $80 million in borrowing this week.. The district borrowed $30.4 million for routine maintenance and pricer renewal of buildings, while the rest of the borrwoing refinances older debt.

It's also a matter of pride in a city where Hennepin County and the city already boast an AAA rating. The district made clear that's its goal, but those experienced in such matters said a jump from AA to AAA in one rating cycle was unrealistic.

The Moody's upgrade to Aa1 came with a negative outlook, but that's still considered an improvement from its previous AA2 stable rating.  

The biggest worry for the credit raters is that so much of the district's budget is tied to state aid, with a worrisome state financial outlook.

But all three were complimentary about the district's steps to strengthen its finances and its finance team. They note with approval a unaudited budget surplus estimated at $135 million. Even though that will be drawn down in fiscal 2013 to $94 million, the raters looked approvingly on that because the drawdown is largely for one-time capital spending.

S&P noted that there's been considerable turnover in the district's upper management as Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has taken charge in her two and one-half years; her CEO, top administrator and finance chief range from nine to 18 months in their positions.

The relatively strong local economy was a factor in the district's favor with all three raters, along with a low debtload.  They also look approvingly on the district's reversal of its enrollment slide, with growth in students projected at about 1 percent annually. 

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