After years of significant budget cuts and layoffs, most metro-area schools are in better financial shape, according to a survey by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Two years ago, metro schools laid off over 600 employees and forced to borrow $380 million largely as a result of education payment shifts that occurred to help balance the state budget.

This year's AMSD survey shows that school districts are implementing $24 million in budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year and laying off 184 employees. Last year, metro schools were facing $133 million in budget cuts. The association represents 38 school districts, three integration districts, and four education cooperatives,

"The latest budget survey shows that the property tax reforms and investments in E-12 education that were approved during the 2013-14 biennium have helped stabilize school district budgets, said AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist.  "At the same time, it is clear that school districts are still recovering from the severe state budget shortfalls that followed the Great Recession."

This year, state lawmakers made several investments that will benefit Minnesota schools. They include: funding for all-day kindergarten, increasing funding for special education and English language learners.

Still, Minnesota schools face funding chanllenges. State aid hasn't always caught up with inflation while the gap remains between special education funding and the increasing costs of educating students with complex physical, emotional and behavioral needs.

Similarly, many of the funding increases granted this year are program specific - such as all-day K - and can't be used for general operations. Some school districts are having to tap their fund balance to cover increased expenses.

The survey shows that six metro school districts plan on holding referendums this fall. They include: Robbinsdale, Columbia Heights, Elk River, Mahtomedi, Eden Prairie and St. Anthony.

Scott Croonquist