Most of Minnesota’s stimulus jobs in education, but school officials still worried

Sixty-three percent of the 11,852 jobs created or saved in Minnesota by federal stimulus money are in education, mostly in K-12, which tallies a total of 7,380 jobs. That’s significantly more than in other states, where about half of the stimulus jobs are education-related.

Still, Minnesota recipients of the federal money can’t shake off a scary truth:

Now they have it.  All too soon they won’t.

“It’s assistance for the now,” said Lakeville schools superintendent Gary Amoroso, whose 1,100-student, suburban Minneapolis school district suffered a $5.6 million budget adjustment this year, including layoffs.  For now, Lakeville is using stimulus money to pay for bread-and-butter basics such as employee health and dental insurance. 

“We couldn’t, in our opinion, go out and hire more staff we couldn’t afford two years down the road,” Amoroso said.

Statewide stimulus coordinator Michelle Weber said her agency, Management & Budget, can’t explain the greater number of Minnesota education jobs than the national average except to conjecture that perhaps many other states have not yet spent their education dollars. 

The first stimulus reports under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came out Friday from the Obama administration with local details released later from the state on this website. For Minnesota, according to the state’s Management & Budget agency, that means $1.6 billion received and spent in public safety, energy and environment, infrastructure, health and human services, the workforce and education.

The office plans this week to add an interactive state map where viewers can click on school districts to learn the specifics of their spending.

Where the money has gone so far is tallied here. [PDF] The site spells out money distributed to the state, counties, cities, school districts and even non-profit organizations. Expenditures include pay-outs for unemployment insurance, medical assistance and food support programs.

For Minnesota school districts and charter schools so far, that’s a hefty $643 million in a year where the economic downturn and budget juggling at the state level have left school districts hurting.

“There’s a misnomer, in terms of state Legislature and governor,” said Dan Brooks, immediate past president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. “[They] wanted the public to believe that public education was not hit with the cuts in state funding. That’s not true. Public education dollars decrease, maybe not as significantly as some other areas, but the difference was back-filled with these stimulus dollars.”

Brooks, who is also superintendent of schools in Sauk Centre, said the federal dollars are available for this school year and school year 2010-2011 to help in Title 1 reading and math services, special education programs as well as stabilization of operating budgets.

But at the end of the stimulus, June 30, 2011, “What’s going to happen then? There is no answer to that,” Brooks said. Schools then are dependent on what the Legislature and governor do, as well as the economy. “Right now there’s a big hole out there to fill when the money goes away,” he said.

For the Sauk Centre district, that’s an absence of about $400,000 over two years.

What happens when the federal money runs out is a “huge concern,” agrees Scoot Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. “There’s a huge funding cliff.

“I know it saved a lot of jobs, but even with the jobs that we saved, we still have a tremendous amount of layoffs.” The group’s 35 member school districts laid off 492 licensed staff, primarily teachers, and 384 non-licensed staff, he said. Details are here. [PDF]

Though the jobs numbers look substantial, most don’t realize they include many part-time jobs, said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. He estimates the 7,000-plus jobs equal about 2,500 full-time equivalents.

Kyte, who lobbies the Legislature for money for schools, says when the federal money runs out: “We’re going to have a disaster.”

State tax revenues are lower than usual, and as with all recessions, some segments of the economy recover faster and some slower. All of which will impact school budgets, he said.

“The big issue is: What is this picture going to look like in July 1, 2011? We’re still going to have problems with state revenue stream.” There will still be a state revenue shortfall, which he estimates could be as much as 20 percent in 2011.

Still, some school districts feel the stimulus money will leave them with long-term gains.

Michelle Langenfeld, associate superintendent for Anoka-Hennepin schools, said her district is putting their stimulus share into systems that won’t go away when the money does. They are putting dollars into staff development and training in Title I and Special Education.

Cynthia Boyd writes on education, health, social issues and other topics.  She can be reached at cboyd [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/04/2009 - 11:14 am.

    I guess it is true…”there will never be enough money to satisfy union education.”

    We need change! Let us give famlies hope! Let us invest in kids instead of this trickle down education system.

    If we invest in kids, maybe our children can have the same education that Mr. Obama had and his children currently have.

  2. Submitted by Bruce Copley on 11/04/2009 - 04:20 pm.

    It seems to me that the teachers union needs to step up here. If I understand their contracts correctly, then individual teachers continue to see increases in salary from step and lane changes, even though they claim to be holding the line on compensation.

    The result is that school districts can afford fewer teachers. The majority of professionals are seeing flat or reduced compensation in these times. The union blocks the logical changes that are required in difficult financial times.

  3. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 11/05/2009 - 11:17 am.

    Many districts this time around are settling their contracts for a pay freeze. Often that includes step increases. Lane change increases are a means of paying back teachers for continuing staff development. Teachers typically invest thousands in a lane change increase before they ever see a dime back. Staff development is the one sure thing that studies have shown has corresponding improvement in student performance. Besides all that, I would love to have a discussion with anyone that teachers are overpaid. Without teacher unions, teachers would be back to being paid in chickens and loose change.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/05/2009 - 11:35 am.

    Unions protect the incompetent and mediocre at the expense of the gifted.

    Without teacher unions, incompetent teachers would be back to being paid in chickens and loose change (or better yet they would be encouraged to find another line of work); truly skilled teachers would be free to set their own compensation.

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