St. Paul schools see $25M shortfall if Legislature's cuts enacted

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2011 - 10:03 PM

The school board faces the prospect of laying off about 300 employees and shelving programs, administrators said. If a measure in the House passes, the cuts will be even deeper, they said.

The St. Paul school board will have to lay off hundreds of employees and cut multiple programs in an effort to meet an anticipated $25 million shortfall next year, administrators told board members Tuesday night.

Administrators blamed most of the cuts on legislators who have proposed deep cuts in the state's public school systems this session.

"We did not expect that St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth schools would be targeted in the way that we have been targeted this legislative session," said Superintendent Valeria Silva.

In a four-hour presentation, chief business officer Michael Baumann and budget analyst Jaber Alsiddiqui explained that they anticipate having $636.3 million to distribute next year. That amount could change drastically depending on what the Legislature decides in the coming weeks.

Under the administration's proposal, the district would lay off 304 employees and slash millions of dollars from several departments. Several administrative offices and the print copy mail center would be eliminated. Most of the people facing layoff were hired with money from last year's federal stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The district also is offering an early-retirement incentive that would pay teachers pay 75 percent of their salary. They hope to get as many as 100 teachers to take the offer by May 20, although only 38 have signed up for the plan so far.

Last year, with a budget of $623.8 million, the district laid off 267 staff members, including 117 teachers to meet a $27.2 million budget gap.

The board is required to pass a budget by its June 21 meeting.

This year's deficit could increase if the Minnesota House passes a bill that would force the district to cut $33 million, including $13.3 million in integration funding, a loss that would force the district to dismantle most of its magnet, school choice and all-day kindergarten programs aimed at closing the achievement gap between white and minority-group students.

The 2011-12 budget allotted more money for some schools and programs, based on a 2014 vision plan that was approved in March, Baumann said. The allocations were based on academic and poverty challenges, he said.

In the past few weeks, Mary Cathryn Ricker, the district's teachers union president, has attended several emotional meetings between principals and their staff in which possible program cuts and layoffs were announced.

The union will go into negotiations with the administration later this month to determine next year's teacher salaries -- another area in which the administration hopes to save money.

"We know the biggest concerns we have weren't caused by the school district. It was caused by legislators," said Ricker. She decided to attend a teacher sit-in in the Capitol rotunda rather than the board meeting.

"This is where the real work needs to happen so the district is forced to do the least worst of a worst-case scenario," she said.

Silva told board members that they also must start looking at ways to increase revenue.

"Do we have enough? No, we don't. St. Paul schools, with the funding that will be provided to us, we will all be losers in many ways. But we'll do the best we can with the funding that we have."

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695

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