Listening opportunity nets legislators an earful

/ 13 September 2011 / Parents United
Listening opportunity nets legislators an earful
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 12:00 AM
Suzanne Rook, Faribault Daily News</p>

Patti Fritz called it a listening opportunity, where the Faribault representative and her legislative colleagues could learn how the 2012 E-12 education budget was impacting school districts.

She got an earful.

For a good portion of an hour Tuesday, Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson and the district’s Director of Special Education Gary Lewis pointed out the budget’s shortcomings, issues with a 40 percent shift in 2012 schools funding and the ever increasing number of unfunded mandates.

The problems, Richardson said, began in 2001 when the $1.9 billion general fund levy for schools was cut by more than half.

“The elimination of this levy left the state with a $1 billion gap in education funding which was not replaced by any permanent broadening on taxes to make up the difference,” he said, later adding that four years of funding shifts have cost Northfield schools $4 million alone.

The district, which in November will ask for a 10-year renewal of its operating levy, could face a $6.7 million shortfall in 2014-15 if it can’t get voter approval by fall 2013. Noting that funding formula hasn’t kept up with inflation, Richardson says the district and the school board have cut costs and conserved resources by renegotiating contracts with employees and service providers.

While thanking legislators for approving additional per pupil funding, he chided them for their “inability to address its own structural deficit” — which most recently sat at $5 billion.

“We are again asking our community to raise their taxes,” he said, “… with the sincere hope that the state will finally address its constitutional responsibility to provide a … thorough and efficient educational system.”

Fritz, who attended the session with Republicans Sen. Al DeKruif of Elysian and Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton, and DFL Reps. Nora Slawik of Maplewood and Mindy Greiling of Roseville, said the Legislature has two years to get its financial house in order. She also worried about how a change in state tax could sink the 130-plus school levy questions across the state this November.

The DFLers weren’t the only ones promising to listen Tuesday. DeKruif, in his first term in St. Paul, said he’ll continue collaborating with Minnesota school leaders, particularly Richardson, when possible “where it might save some money and make some sense.”

— Suzanne Rook covers the city for the Northfield News. Reach her at 507-645-1113.

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