Proposed education budget offers little help to district

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 2/14/01.

With the Paynesville Area School District mulling over the prospect of making $500,000 in cuts from its operating budget, scant help from the state government appears to be on the way.

"If the Legislature takes the governor's proposal, then we're in trouble," said superintendent Howard Caldwell.

"We along with many other schools in the state of Minnesota will suffer immensely," Caldwell continued. "There's just no way we are going to function."

The governor's proposal includes a basic aid increase of nearly $500 per pupil unit, from $3,964 to $4,461. Sounds good, but be sure to read the fine print, warns Caldwell.

For starters, the rates for figuring pupil units are cut, which negates all but a $45 per pupil raise in Paynesville's case.

Then other funding programs are repealed and rolled into the general formula. Lost Assurance of Mastery Replacement Revenue is another $9 loss per pupil for Paynesville. The governor proposed that at least three other programs be repealed.

Caldwell complains that increasing the general levy, while erasing other sources of revenue, gives the impression of new spending on education, while really tightening the bottom lines of school districts. "It looks good there," he explains, pointing at the $500 increase per pupil unit, "but in reality, when you look at the numbers, you're losing."

"(Gov. Ventura) doesn't believe in providing funds for education and he's up front about it," said school board chairman Pat Flanders recently at a school public hearing.

Paynesville already faces cutting a half million dollars from the school budget for next year and further revenue losses due to declining enrollment. If the proposed budget passes, "we would just be that much further behind," said Caldwell.

According to an analysis of the governor's budget by the Department of Children, Families, and Learning, the proposed budget would mean a 0.7 percent increase in school funding for Paynesville in the second year of the budget.

In their analysis, Education Minnesota, the teacher's union, figured that 75 percent of the school districts in the state will see a net decrease in their education revenue over the next two years under the proposed budget.

The need for lobbying efforts was raised at the public hearing about the potential school cuts on Feb. 1, and has been advanced since by teacher Cheryl Bungum.

Letters have been sent from the district to parents urging them to write their legislators and the governor, and drop boxes have been placed in the respective school offices.

Caldwell believes that the public - parents and students - need to take the lead in the lobbying effort. "I think legislators are more receptive to listen to the general public as opposed to those people who are directly or indirectly impacted by an education paycheck," he explained.

So the good news for Paynesville schools is that the proposed budget hasn't become law yet, because it could spell bad news if it does.

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