Budget designates 77% of funds for classrooms, 12% to buildings and faciliteis, 8% to transportation and meals, 3% to administration.
The Saint Paul Public School Board unanimously approved a $629 million budget for the 2007-2008 school year on June 19. The budget dovetails well with the Strategic Plan for Continued Excellence, which was created as a guide for the district through the year 2011. Approximately 77% of funds go into classrooms, 12% to buildings and facilities, and 8% to transportation and meals.
The budget reflects both expansions and reductions in funding. One key addition, based on the district’s Strategic Plan, is funding for the human resource department to attract, hire and retain a more diverse staff through advertising in local and national newspapers and on-line.
Mary Catherine Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, pointed out one difficulty in recruiting and retaining a diverse staff. “Because Minnesota has a higher concentration of colleges and universities, we produce more teachers than we can absorb. Minnesota has a great reputation, and it is a continual challenge to retain quality teachers here.”
Teacher pay is built into the budget based on formula with a maximum 2.5% inflation, but the Federation does not participate in the budgeting process. The union is still in negotiation and increases will likely not be determined until later in the school year.
The budget also provides funding for reinstatement of the School Selection Guide, the Back to School Reference Guide and an annual report on the Strategic Plan to provide resources to community members. In addition, $10,000 will fund community feedback on issues that arise throughout the year. The sessions are linked directly with action steps in the Strategic Plan for Continued Excellence to increase the strength of partnerships between students, parents, schools, the district and community.
The district plans to phase out the Excel program, which provided “half grades” for students heading into fourth, sixth and ninth grades but needing additional skills before advancing. The budget provides for $750,000 to continue the Excel teachers for one more year while giving the Office of Academics the time to work with principals to redesign the program.
According to Denise Quinlan, the Executive Director of Middle Grades, “It’s now called the On-Track program and is linked to successful credit completion. The direction allows for more ownership by students and integration of the program into regular school practices. Students are provided with a range of services, depending on their specific needs. It was at the forefront that the district would replicate elements of the program across the board; that it would become institutionalized.”
The budget relies on state, local and federal funding. State funding makes up the biggest part of the mix—some 84 percent of the total. Local funds, raised through property taxes, contribute 15 percent. Federal funds provide only one percent of the budget.
As the second largest school district in Minnesota, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) serves over 41,000 students and employs 6,500 educators, administrators and related service personnel. (Anoka County is the largest district, Minneapolis is third.) The district ranks first in the percentage of kids in poverty. Much state aid is distributed on a per-pupil funding formulas. This year’s K-12 Education Omnibus Finance Bill includes an increase in the per-pupil funding formulas of 2% for FY 2008, and 1% for FY 2009.
Local funding comes from property taxes. In addition to the regular levy, St. Paul voters approved an operating referendum in 2006 that will provide about $30 million a year for six years, beginning in 2007/08. The funds amount to $593 per pupil per year, an increase of almost 80 percent from previous allowances. The referendum funds current essential programs with a focus on early childhood education and preparation for graduating seniors.
At a school level, budgets are tied to enrollment. According to the budget plan, the district is moving towards a student-weighted pupil funding formula. A major change to the formula this year will be the inclusion of a base funding allocation. This allocation will carry an expectation for minimum programming at each school. When individual schools lose enrollment, they lose funding. District-wide, student enrollment is down by about 400 students from last year.
With more than 20,000 students, elementary schools receive the highest per pupil allocation. The district made a conscious decision to direct more funds to elementary schools in an effort to provide students with a solid foundation in basic skills. District wide, the average funding for each elementary pupil is $5,869.
Senior high schools make up 21.7% of the student population with a total enrollment of 11,131. Junior high schools comprise 15%, with a total enrollment of 6,475 students. Average per-pupil funding at the junior high level is $5,472, and average high school funding is $4,616 per pupil.
The per-pupil funding numbers vary because of a number of factors. Allocations are based not only on the general fund, but on integration, referendum, compensatory and Title I funds—which, provide supplemental funds for children who have limited English skills, have disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading and literacy assistance. Statewide, the St. Paul Public School district has the most students identified at the poverty level as well as those needing special education and English language support.
The complete budget and the strategic plan can be downloaded at the St. Paul Public Schools website at www.spps.org/home.html
Betsy Mowry is a free-lance writer in the Twin Cities.