It’s getting bad for Minnesota school children and those who educate them; total personnel cuts in the Twin Cities metro area alone may top 1,500.
The enormous number of layoffs – nearly twice last year’s figure – is the result of at least $150 million in budget reductions, estimated Scott Croonquist, the executive director of the 38-member Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
This number includes teachers and staff, Croonquist said. Final budgets are due to the state Department of Education by the end of June. AMSD will survey its members in July and have firm figures then.
The underfunding of education – an inflation-adjusted drop of 14 percent since 2003 – is a chronic statewide problem.
“It’s no secret that rural districts are cutting personnel as well,” said Lee Warne, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. “Most rural districts have cut so much in the past several years that there’s no place else to lay anyone off that won’t do damage to teaching and learning.”
Unlike Croonquist, Warne wouldn’t put a number on the layoffs or budget cuts until his association conducts a survey. But he left no doubt about the status of education outside the Twin Cities:
“It’s ugly. There’s greater demand placed on schools to score better on tests and close the achievement gap. After years of cutting, it’s unachievable to do these things with the resources we have,” Warne stated.
One of the hardest hit metro districts is Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan which cut $11 million this spring, forcing the lay offs of 78.7 full-time equivalent teachers, 35.5 FTE specialists and paraprofessionals, and 29.5 FTE administration and clerical staff. The district also cut after-school transportation and increased activity fees.
District spokesman Tony Taschner said the school board is planning for rougher days. With Minnesota facing a $6 billion deficit and education constituting 40 percent of the state’s budget, Taschner said the board considers cuts to the education budget a certainty. Members have asked administrators to plan for at least a five percent cut in state funding next year, which would result in a $20 million drop in the district’s revenue.
They may ask voters to raise property taxes this November to help make up this gap, but the district is already levying $1,042 per student under a 2005 referendum. The state levy cap for the district is about $1,500.
That means even under the best-case scenario, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan will undergo another round of horrific cuts. If voters allow the district to levy every dime in property taxes, and if in 2011 state lawmakers reduce the education budget by the smallest amount predicted by the board, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan will still have to cut $5 million.
This is the wrong direction for education in Minnesota; tax levies were meant for “extras,” not to prevent erosions in the basic promise we’ve made to educate our state’s children.
“We’re faced with the chance that we’ll have to go to voters in November and ask for a levy that won’t add anything to education, won’t retain anything for education, but will only exist to keep cuts to the quality of education to a minimum,” Taschner said.
Minnesota’s economy is in a tough spot but an unbalanced budgeting approach over the last eight years is compromising Minnesota’s schools. Having at least 1,500 fewer educators instructing Minnesota’s students isn’t going to improve test scores, increase educational accountability or position our state for future prosperity. Minnesota needs schools that are worthy of Minnesota’s families. Right now, we’re heading in the wrong direction.