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Now is the time to speak out on school funding

I was paging through an old Farm and Ranch magazine and came across information on "Farm Woman of the Year" contest. First prize was a zero-turn mower. I thought to myself, "This is my kind of beauty contest!" Then I saw one contestant could spea...

I was paging through an old Farm and Ranch magazine and came across information on "Farm Woman of the Year" contest. First prize was a zero-turn mower. I thought to myself, "This is my kind of beauty contest!" Then I saw one contestant could speak three languages, run a 10 K marathon, and bake fresh apple pie and bread for 10 hired hands and still make it to the pageant on time. I knew I should stick with my day job.

One of the biggest parts of my day job as superintendent of schools is education finance (which is in no way a beauty contest). The purpose of this article is to explain Perham -Dent's budget expectations for school year 2008-09.

Current funding picture:

School districts are funded primarily from the state, rather than directly through local property taxes. The 2007 Omnibus Education Act set funding for schools for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years with increases of 2% and 1% respectively (less than inflation).

Our district graduates more students than enter kindergarten. Clearly, fewer students require less staff which results in less expense. We are responsible to reduce staff when student numbers decline; we have been diligent in doing that. In a perfect world, reductions in expense balance with reductions in revenue. Such is not the case, given current state funding for education.

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Reductions necessary:

At the end of this school year, our projected unreserved fund balance (often called "general fund") is expected to be approximately $301,900. Current projections show the district should reduce expenditures by 3.8% which represents $500,000 in order to maintain our small fund balance and stay clear of statutory operating debt. That figure ($500,000) is determined by taking projected revenue ($13,133,563) minus projected expenditures ($13,623,514) while maintaining a projected 2008-09 unreserved fund balance of about $312,000.

Please note that the projected reductions may change:

1) it may be adjusted if the School Board makes changes to the "unreserved fund balance" goal;

2) it may be impacted by the 2008 legislative session if more funding is sent to school districts by the state;

3) it may change if there are significant increases or decreases in expected student enrollment;

4) it may change if special education is again under-funded (it is expected that special education will be under-funded. What is unknown is "by how much?" The unknown number creates a moving target.)

On January 23, 2008, the School Board made a resolution calling for reductions and discussed a timetable and process for budget reductions.

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Process and participation:

The School Board directed the superintendent and her administrative team to develop a list of potential budget reductions / revenue streams to meet the fund balance goal. Input from district residents, students and families (whether in district or open enrolled), and staff is encouraged. Input may be submitted via:

1) an online survey open from February 7 to February 15, 2008 (visit www.perham.k12.mn.us to link to the online survey);

2) meetings with or email to the Superintendent ( tuselman@perham.k12.mn.us ) until March 7, 2008;

3) written submission to the School Board;

4) and /or testimony at School Board meetings.

Related information, dates, and public input process:

1) Letter to employees, emailed 1/24/2008

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2) Employee online input site posted, 2/07/2008; closed February 15, 2008

3) Student online input site posted, 2/07/2008; closed February 15, 2008

4) General fund cost analysis for the district/ct by building, posted 2/08/2008

5) Letter to the public, 1/28/2008

6) Public online input site posted, 2/07/08; closed February 15, 2008

7) Public meetings to share budget information: Monday, February 4, 2008 at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 7:30 a.m. and / or 3:30 p.m. (all meetings tentatively scheduled for the PHS auditorium)

8) List of "Potential Revenue Increases, Reallocations, and Reductions to Date", posted 2/11/2008

Closing comments:

We are all disappointed that funding necessitates reductions in valued services and programs. The School Board will continue to work hard to increase revenue streams by offering attractive programming to area students and families. As part of the Minnesota School Board Association, our local board will continue to work to "overhaul both the school funding formulas and revenue mechanism that fund schools."

I ask that all constituents - citizens of the district, students, families, and employees - work in a supportive manner as we consider difficult choices that allow our district to be financially stable.

Thank you for taking time to understand the issue and its history.

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