Minnesota Department of Education’s School Finance Award will never compete with “March Madness” for public attention. But MDE recently gave 69 percent of Minnesota’s traditional districts and 85 percent of Minnesota charter public schools the award. This recognizes solid accomplishment and merits public praise.
I asked Tom Melcher, MDE’s director of school finance, what the public should conclude about districts and charters that received this award. Many educators and legislators regard Melcher, who has worked 35 years with MDE, as a Minnesotan with great integrity who knows more than anyone else in the state about school funding.
He explained to me that this is the 10th year MDE has made the report available. Melcher said the districts and charters receiving the award “are doing a good job with timely financial reporting to the state. They are fiscally strong and are maintaining positive fund balances in all their accounts.”
What about those districts that did not receive the award?
“There are a small number of districts that are running deficits,” he said. “Those districts need to get back ‘into the black.’ The majority of districts that did not receive the award missed reporting deadlines. The department would appreciate getting those reports on time so that MDE can publish reports from Legislature and public on timely basis.”
Melcher noted that Minneapolis and St. Paul districts “failed to meet the statutory requirement to submit preliminary unaudited UFARS data to MDE by September 15, 2013. The two districts met all other requirements for the award. In St Paul’s case, this was related to their conversion to a new financial software package, which delayed their preliminary reports. Final reports were submitted on time.”
Rachel Hicks of the Minneapolis Public Schools wrote, “MPS met all of the criteria except for the first. We submitted the preliminary unaudited UFARS file to MDE on September 17, which was one day late. We will make sure to adhere to the file submission dates in future years.”
Minneapolis based charters receiving the finance award included: Arch Academy, Augsburg/Fairview Academy, Cedar Riverside, El Colegio, Fraser Academy, Emily Gray, Harvest Prep/Seed Academy, Hennepin Prep, KIPP Minnesota, Learning for Leadership, Lighthouse Academy of Nations, Lincoln International High School, Minneapolis Academy, Minnesota International Middle School, Minnesota Internship Center, Minnesota Transitions, New City School, Sojourner Truth, Southside Family School, Stonebridge Community School, Upper Mississippi Academy, Venture Academy, Watershed High School and Yinghua Academy
St Paul charters receiving the award included: Academia Cesar Chavez, Achieve Language Academy, Avalon, City Academy, College Prep Elementary, Community School of Excellence, Concordia Creative Learning, Community of Peace, Cornerstone, Cyber Village, Dugsi Academy, Face to Face Academy, German Immersion Charter, Great River, Higher Ground Academy, High School for Recording Arts, Hope Community, Hmong College Prep, Jennings Community Learning Center, Laura Jeffrey Academy, Metro Deaf, Minnesota On-Line High School, New Millennium, Nova Classical, St. Paul City Academy, St, Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, Twin Cities Academy, Urban Academy, and West Side Summit.
In the northwest metro area, winners included the districts of Anoka-Hennepin (which was the only one of the state’s three largest districts to win the award), Columbia Heights, Elk River, Monticello and Spring Lake Park, and the charters DaVinci Academy in Blaine, Lionsgate Academy in Crystal, Beacon Academy and Parnassus in Maple Grove, Global Academy in Columbia Heights, EXCELL Academy in Brooklyn Park, PACT in Ramsey, Kaleidoscope in Otsego, Spectrum High School in Elk River, and Swan River Montessori in Monticello.
In the southern and western metro area, winners included the districts of Bloomington, Burnsville, Buffalo-Hanover, Delano, Eden Prairie, Edina, Farmington, Hopkins, Lakeville, Minnetonka, Mounds View, Orono, Osseo, Richfield, Rockford, Rosemount Apple Valley-Eagan, St. Louis Park, St. Francis, Waconia, Watertown-Mayer, Wayzata, Westonka, and the charters of Beacon Prep and Seven Hills in Bloomington, Main Street charter in Hopkins, International Spanish Academy charter in Minnetonka, Partnership Academy in Richfield, Paideia Academy in Apple Valley, Sage Academy in Brooklyn Park, and Cologne Academy in Cologne.
Eastern suburban winners included the districts of South Washington County, Stillwater, White Bear Lake and the charters Math and Science Academy in Woodbury, New Heights and St. Croix Prep, both in Stillwater, and the Academy for Sciences and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights.
North of the Twin Cities, winners included the districts of Braham, Cambridge-Isanti, Forest Lake, Little Falls, North Branch, Pierz, Princeton, Royalton, Rush City and the charters Trio Wolf Creek in Chisago Lakes and Lakes International Language Academy and North Lakes Academy, both in Forest Lake.
The complete list of districts and charters receiving the award is available athttp://bit.ly/1gwBYqM.
Criteria for receiving the award includes fulfilling MDE requirements in three basic categories:
–Submitting financial information on time and complying with Minnesota statutes.
–Showing specific signs of fiscal health.
–Demonstrating accurate financial reporting.
Details are here: http://bit.ly/NSKHa4.
Melcher mentioned that the number of districts and charters receiving the award has increased over the last decade. That’s in part because MDE staff no longer requires a formal application for the award. It’s also because more schools are submitting timely, accurate reports and are operating “in the black.” Now, state staff simply checks to see which districts and charters are meeting the criteria. That seems like a wise decision at MDE because it saves educators’ time.
MDE wisely recognizes solid financial performance along with accurate reports, submitted on time. These are not the only ways to judge the work of a district or charter.
But they help give the public important information about how well our taxes are being used.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at email@example.com.