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“State legislators have been put in a really bad spot over the past decade because of the debt,” Carlson said. “I think they did the best job they could this year given the resources they have.”
While Anoka-Hennepin won’t be seeking new levy dollars from voters this fall, other schools will. A preliminary survey by the Minnesota school board Association indicates 72 schools will turn to referendums come election day.
One of those schools is Stillwater Area Public Schools which is proposing to raise the district’s current $1,005 per student levy to $1,495 per student. If the levy is allowed to expire, the district estimates it will need $10 million in cuts. On the chopping block are the school’s current five day week and band and orchestra programs; it’s also considering raising class sizes.
Superintendent Corey Lunn said the new money the district received from the state this year wouldn’t change the district’s referendum plans.
“I want to make this very clear. I am not one of those superintendents who believe more money is the answer to solve the problems within education,” Lunn said. “But when you are faced with unfunded mandates both on the state and federal level, it becomes a very difficult situation.” He cited the requirement to evaluate teachers as one of the newer state initiatives many schools are struggling to fund.
Banking on the future
While most Minnesota schools will have to wait another year to feel the impact of the 2013 legislative session, some metro area schools will be receiving new money this year to fund integration efforts.
In the past, the state formula favored big districts like Minneapolis and St. Paul and did little to help suburban schools with increasing numbers of minority students. But legislators revised the formula, and now suburban schools stand to gain.
“It’s money that should have been there all along,” said Lester, the Brooklyn Center superintendent. “Now, we get to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
About $250,000 in new integration aid will be flowing this year into Brooklyn Center Public Schools, a district so cash-strapped that teachers donated a portion of their paycheck this year to pay for things like field trips and class projects. Between that money, an increase in state money for low-income students and the renewal of a couple of significant grants, the district projects to be out of statutory operating debt in another a year or so.
For a district that’s been in red for more than a decade, that’s huge, said Lester. “We’re talking about removing a stigma that’s been attached to us for too long.”
Significant funding increases also are in store for next year as a result of legislative tweaks to the state tax bill. Key among them is the ability for school boards to levy up to $300 per pupil without voter approval.
School officials say that will be a huge boon to property poor school districts who have been unable to pass referendums. About 10 percent of Minnesota’s 337 school districts have no operating levy.
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469