Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


School budget woes increase dramatically

ALSO: Politicizing the recount, a deer encounter of a very close kind, the arrival of 4G and high-tech parking meters, and less political ad spending than expected.

All that political game-playing with the state’s education budget is coming home to roost … in a bigger way than expected, reports MPR’s Tom Weber. “[Minneapolis] District leaders had said next year’s budget gap would exceed $20 million, but they now estimate it will be between $30 million and $45 million. Peggy Ingison, the district’s chief financial officer, said the deficits are the result of federal stimulus money that is running out, along with uncertain and likely less funding from the state and cuts, are certain to affect classroom instruction and teaching jobs.” He adds: “During a school board meeting Tuesday night, Ingison broke the deficit into three areas:

• The district won’t have about $15 million it had relied on during the past two years from the federal stimulus.

• The district expects it will lose between $10 million-$15 million in state funding, given its best projections for how lawmakers might tackle the state’s own budget deficit.

• The district faces uncertainty in what labor costs it will have to pay out, given a recent arbitrators’ ruling in a dispute over teacher pay raises that the district owes teachers as much as $17 million in back pay.”

Article continues after advertisement

Meanwhile, in a juuuust slightly related matter, the gubernatorial recount is getting more “legalized” and politicized by the hour. Rachel Stassen-Berger and Baird Helgeson report for the Strib: “Some Republicans say the investment to put their man over the top would be worthwhile even as they privately concede it could be tough for Emmer to close the nearly 9,000-vote gap. Others say that prolonging the recount fight long enough to keep Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in office an extra few weeks with a newly GOP-led Legislature would be a welcome bonus. ‘I don’t think there’s any downside to keeping this recount going on as long as possible,’ said a high-level Republican operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘If we keep the process going, there are opportunities for us in the upcoming legislative session.’ ” Is that the same thing as saying there are opportunities for the school districts?

Despite having “thinned” the area deer herd by two — with my car — in recent years, I still cannot relate to the New Ulm family who had a young buck crash through the front windshield and out the back of their little Pontiac Vibe. The Strib’s Abby Simons reports: “The accident — in which a young buck was clipped by an oncoming car before it flew through the windshield of the Blakes’ Pontiac Vibe, struck them and their 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, in the backseat before crashing through the rear window — has left authorities shaking their heads. They’re flabbergasted, they said, not only at how rare it is for a deer to fly completely through a vehicle, but also at how lucky the family was to survive: [Father] Chris Blake suffered the worst injuries, including multiple broken facial bones. [Mother] Sue Blake has only minor scratches to her face, while Olivia’s face is full of cuts from broken glass, along with a fractured cheekbone.” That one is definitely a “Holy [bleep].”

The contagion that is Denny Hecker has cost that North Dakota bank $400,000. The PiPress’s MaryJo Webster explains: “VISIONBank agreed to pay in three installments over the next two years as a result of [bankruptcy] trustee Randy Seaver’s claims that the bank received preferential treatment over other creditors. Hecker made debt payments to the bank of more than $3.1 million when he was insolvent in the months leading up to his bankruptcy filing, according to the settlement. Hecker still owes the bank more than $7 million in unsecured debt. VISIONBank is one of several creditors that accused Hecker of obtaining loans fraudulently. Its lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year after Hecker abandoned efforts to have his debts forgiven in response to allegations from Seaver that he hid assets and lied to the court.” Webster also reports that there will be two more auctions of Hecker-phernalia, for all you ghouls who want to own one of the ex-car dealer’s (possibly) real Rolex watches.

Martin Moylan over at MPR files on the arrival of 4G cell phone service in the Twin Cities: “Two carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, have already launched 4G — fourth generation — networks in the Twin Cities and other markets. ATT says it will launch its 4G service next year. Meanwhile, Verizon promises to have its 4G network up in 38 markets, including the Twin Cities, by the end of this year. Verizon brought hundreds of local business customers together in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday to show them what its 4G network could make possible. Tom Dunlap of Verizon said 4G will provide customers with a 10-fold increase in data speeds. And give them ‘the ability to access any data, anywhere, at anytime, with any device.’ Dunlap told the mix of executives and telecom techs in attendance that they’ll be able to do things they didn’t think were practical — or possible. Verizon says 4G means sharp, broadcast quality video for doctors who want to examine patients stuck at home. It means police can snap a picture of a suspect, and identify him by accessing a facial recognition database, wirelessly.” So now I can send my doctor a crystal-clear video of the hideous oozing boil on my foot? Lucky guy.   

Well, we’re about three years behind Seattle with a new generation of parking meters. But they have finally arrived. Randy Furst of the Strib files a story on the installation of the first, in the Warehouse District/North Loop. The “computerized machines that will allow you to pay with coins or by debit or credit card. The 46 new meters, which will service 450 parking spaces, will begin operating later this month.”

WCCO’s Amelia Santaniello files a piece on the meters, noting that there’s no such thing anymore as grabbing the last guy’s unused 15 minutes, and that a computer at city hall knows when time has expired. But hey, look at the bright side. Big Brother takes debit cards!

A Strib editorial this morning speaks favorably about “ranked choice voting.” One guess who’s opposed. “Recent electoral history has left a number of staunch partisans, both DFLers and Republicans, believing that Republicans fare better with the status quo and that a change to ranked voting would help DFLers. Some Republicans have further argued that RCV violates the constitutional principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ though a June 2009 unanimous opinion by the Minnesota Supreme Court declared otherwise. The state Republican Party standing platform specifies: ‘We oppose the implementation of any voting schemes that violate the principle of one man, one vote including ‘Instant Runoff Voting.’ With the GOP in charge at the Legislature in 2011, that plank is a major impediment to the slow, multi-year phase-in of RCV that advocates seek.”

You really have to stuff a sock in it when you hear TV and radio stations complaining about less-than-expected revenue flow from campaign spending. Given they operate via free licenses on public airwaves, they have a role in our absurd-to-obnoxious campaign rhetoric that is, you know, kind of key. Annie Baxter at MPR reports on the cash flow this past season: “[KSTP TV president Rob] Hubbard said broadcasters initially expected that the contest between GOP incumbent Michele Bachmann and DFL candidate Tarryl Clark in the 6th District would be close. That meant independent expenditure groups would be pumping lots of money into it. However, Bachmann maintained a convincing lead in the polls and the third-party groups didn’t need to jump in, especially since Bachmann had raised so much money herself. She pulled in more fundraising dollars than any other House candidate. Lack of spending by outside groups was disappointing for another reason — they have to pay more. Broadcasters can charge third-party expenditure groups premium ad rates. That was the case for the relatively minor spending by outside groups in the governor’s race. But Hubbard said for the most part, candidates spent the bulk of the money. And by law, they get to pay the lowest price for ads.” Left unsaid here is that stations are not required to apply “lowest unit rates” to every “class” of time, like say during primetime and the 10 p.m. news.

Did you catch the Forbes survey that declares you and me and the other 3 million “the most relaxed metropolitan area in the country”? The story says: “Places with high unemployment, heavy traffic and long working hours can be physically painful to live in: Stressful environments can take their toll on your health, causing everything from headaches and back pain to high blood pressure and heart disease. So where can you go to escape the rat race? If you’re searching for a mellow metro in the nation, head for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. The Twin Cities rank No. 1 on our list of America’s Most Relaxed Cities.” And that “In No. 1-ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul, joblessness isn’t the stress-inducer it is elsewhere: At 7%, the unemployment rate is well below the 9.6% national average. Fewer than 5% of workers spend their mornings stuck in traffic, and 84% of the population reported recent exercise — the best workout rate of any city we surveyed. The metro also scored well for its high percentage of inhabitants that have medical coverage and good general physical health.” Uh-huh. Well, you get any closer to my bumper, pally, and I’ll show you “relaxed.”

Sports fans will find a different take and some fresher quotes on the Vikings’ melodrama than they are seeing from local reporters in Sean Jensen’s Chicago Sun-Times piece. Says Jensen, formerly of the PiPress: “But [head coach Brad Childress’]  most egregious errors were criticizing players after games and questioning effort during practices. ‘’He has absolutely no people skills,’ one team source said. Recently, though, Childress unwisely picked two targets. After a 28-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 24, Childress was critical of Favre, who threw three interceptions. ‘You can’t throw it to them; you’ve got to play within the confines of our system,’ Childress said. Favre wasn’t the only one irked by that comment. ‘For a lot of guys, that was a turning point,’ one player said.Although Childress didn’t help himself with ownership, three players said they supported Childress’ decision to dump Moss. One insisted that, despite the potential, Moss’ production didn’t justify enduring his antics. Childress challenged another receiver, questioning the effort of Percy Harvin, who was hobbled with an ankle injury, and threatening to make him inactive for the game against the Cardinals. Harvin was animated in defending himself, but Childress responded by saying, “I can say whatever I want,’ according to a source. The two had to be separated, but Harvin was applauded by several teammates and even coaches for standing up to Childress.” And: “ ‘We’ve got too many good football players, and we won’t lay down like Dallas,’ one player said. ‘As much as I hate Childress,’ another player said, ‘I will keep playing.’ ” I guess Jensen just has better sources, huh?