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‘New’ school revenue doesn’t feel new when it’s gobbled up by inflation

MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
Despite new state revenue, school districts are again facing the need to make massive cuts to balance next year’s budget.

For your consideration, today Your Humble Blogger submits “Learning Curve: The Mailbox Edition.” Why? Because it’s Friday, and I am borrowing a little time to polish off the script for a presentation you, Dear Reader, are invited to attend.

I often wish that MinnPost had a letters to the editor section, not least because my mailbox is frequently awash in points that would have beautifully fit into stories that have been birthed and realistically may not get revisited soon.

Thursday I had such a communication from Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin School District about a legislative education finance analysis I wrote Thursday that noted that despite new state revenue, school districts are again facing the need to make massive cuts to balance next year’s budget.

Never mind the cost cutting of recent years; Carlson will need to find $11 million in savings. He wrote to amplify, and has graciously agreed to let me share his e-mail with you:

Beth,

Very good analysis and article!! The frustrating part for me is that the message we are getting from the governor, commissioner of education, and legislative leadership is this: Look at all the NEW money we are giving you!!!

What they fail to recognize is that it is only new money if you disregard all of the existing teacher contracts across the state. They continue to not recognize either inflationary increases or current teacher contracts with steps and lanes that yield about 2 percent to 3 percent a year in increases as teachers move through the salary schedule. (Please note: The Health and Human Services budget does account for inflation in its budget figures.)

The governor’s budget leaves me with two choices as the person responsible for balancing our district budget. I can either cut 250 teachers or give our 13 bargaining units a hard freeze — no steps or lanes. Beth, you nailed the issue at the end of your article.

Now fast forward to two upcoming events — teacher negotiations throughout the state starting now, and the election season for the House of Representatives in 2014. How do you reconcile all of “the good news” at the state level at the conclusion of this legislative session and the local school cuts that follow which could decimate a school district after a decade of underfunding? I predict that the fall campaign brochures will be filled with answers to that question.

To be clear: I do not read this as Carlson wishing to not increase teacher pay or firing a warning shot over the bow of his district’s union, Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota. I believe his point is that new money doesn’t feel so new when it is to be immediately gobbled up by inflation.

I know from previous conversations with Carlson that he takes very seriously the fact that his district is a major employer and that the wages its employees spend on goods and services in the community generate  economic ripples that radiate widely. 

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 04/05/2013 - 11:05 am.

    numbers game

    Politicians learn how to use numbers to escape from reality as this article illustrates. We need to dramatically increase funding to education to make our children competitive in the global world not just better than WI. The former accounting manipulation and nickel and dimeing of educational funding really shows education is just a line item at the capital not something that is taken seriously.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 04/05/2013 - 07:14 pm.

    It must be a budget year…

    Oh no, we still do not have enough money for union, big government, trickle down, special interest education. What are we going to do?

  3. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/05/2013 - 11:27 pm.

    Time for rethinking?

    Beth, does the state legislature force school districts to adopt the system of teacher pay that includes automatic pay increases? (No)

    Do public schools you’ve written about in the metro area that are “beating the odds” and closing or eliminating achievement gaps build in automatic pay increases? (No)

    Might it be time for rethinking the long-time strategy of automatic, built in raises in teacher pay? (yes)

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