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

Lawmakers continue to not recognize either inflationary increases or current teacher contracts, says Anoka-Hennepin superintendent.

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

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:

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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.