School chiefs say funding system is too precarious

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2008 - 9:19 PM

A survey of superintendents shows support for more state money, fewer referendums.

A majority of Minnesota school superintendents feel funding for schools is getting more precarious, a survey by the Minnesota 2020 think tank shows.

The survey of 177 superintendents -- more than half of the state total -- revealed a consensus that school funding must change: It's too dependent now on voter-approved referendums, with too little money coming directly from the state. As a result, they said, many districts are facing more budget cuts.

Results of the survey, which come as legislative committees discuss school funding methods that would rely more on state financing and less on voter-approved referendums, were released at a Wednesday press conference.

"This is a chilling wakeup call," said Matt Entenza, Minnesota 2020 founder and board chair and a former DFL state representative. "We could be laying off close to 1,000 teachers next year."

Superintendents whose districts lost levy requests in the fall said they would have to lay off an average of seven teachers each because of the funding shortfalls. Most said they would go right back to voters this year to try again for more property tax funding.

Prior Lake schools superintendent Tom Westerhaus, who is also president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said the need for superintendents to spend so much time working on referendums to drum up money for schools means less time gets spent on education.

"We've become the local taxmen," said Westerhaus, whose district lost a referendum request last November, and plans on trying again this fall. "Some of my colleagues feel they are public enemy number one."

Although the state of Minnesota took over the lion's share of school funding in 2001 to reduce the property tax burden on homeowners, educators have complained that the funding isn't enough to cover annual inflationary increases. That, they say, means they continually have to go to their voters for levy increases.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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