Schools were not held harmless


by Pam Costain | June 17, 2009 • Contrary to popular perception, schools were not held harmless by the Governor’s budget decisions, and in fact his budget will deliver very real and challenging impacts on school districts across the state, including Minneapolis Public Schools.

All Learning, All the Time – This multi-author Daily Planet blog includes writing by community members about education issues.

We have to be clear. What the Governor delivered is a budget solution that buries the long term structural problems of the state (including how to create a sustainable funding framework for public schools) and shifts the burden to local units of government, including the school district. Rather than working with the legislature to create an honest budget, based on long term financial viability and a “pay as you go” framework, the Governor has given the citizens of this state a dishonest budget that buries true costs, borrows, shifts and contorts in order to make it appear that all is well for education.

This is bad public policy and has real consequences for the students we are educating. The accounting shifts alone are enormous and will force MPS to do significant short term borrowing to cover the costs of delayed allocations to our schools. Rather than spending money on the classroom, MPS will be spending money on interest payments to banks.

Last night the Board of Education received a comprehensive presentation about the 2009-2010 budget from our CFO. I encourage you to check out the complete budget information presented to the board. The good news is this budget is guided by a strong academic vision and a commitment to spending the money more directly on the children who generate it. It focuses resources on the classroom and will provide school sites with a more transparent budgeting process going forward. Unfortunately, it also contains very real pain and hardship as we close the $28 million funding gap. In particular, sacrifices will be asked of employees that will be difficult for individuals and families. These sacrifices are necessary if we are to get through these really serious economic times.

The administration has worked hard to be faithful to promises made during the referendum and the proposed referendum expenditures reflect that. Every day we are grateful to the citizens of Minneapolis for their investment in the future of our schools and our city with their 71% approval of our levy. Few communities in the country would have been so generous in such uncertain times. Without the support we received for the referendum, MPS could be walking off a financial cliff right now. It is also important to acknowledge the cushion provided by the federal stimulus dollars which are being used wisely by our district.

As we move through the final stages of Changing School Options, I hope we can all keep the focus on fiscal responsibility, sustainability, equity and fairness, academic achievement and what is best for the most number of kids.

• Pam Costain, Minneapolis School Board Director (speaking only for myself)