St. Paul teachers are brainstorming “creative budget solutions” to help the school district manage an expected budget shortfall of $25 million for the next school year, according to the president of their union.
The school district, meanwhile, already is takings steps to fill the budget gap. In December the district implemented a temporary hiring freeze through June 30, and last month it issued a warning that the deficit – the largest single-year shortfall the district has faced in more than a decade – will touch all areas of the district’s budget.
At the school board’s Feb. 10 meeting, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen got specific, putting staff members’ cost-of-living wage increases on the chopping block.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said union members discussed the budget shortfall in depth at their Jan. 26 meeting and will continue seeking answers at their Feb. 23 meeting.
“St. Paul Federation of Teachers members have a serious interest in addressing the budget crisis from a standpoint of being invested in the success of St. Paul Schools as employees and as citizens,” Ricker said.
“We intend on having a voice in this budget decision because we’re the ones daily in the classrooms meeting the needs of kids, meeting the needs of students.”
The union also is asking members to take the budget discussion “into their buildings,” Ricker said, “and to put forward ideas either to their principals and site councils, or to funnel them to me and the union officers, so we can compile any budget ideas and present them to the district as well.”
The union planned to rally outside the district offices Feb. 17, calling on board members and Carstarphen to work with their members in the budget process.
The stakes in upcoming budget discussions will be high, as the $25 million shortfall accounts for about 5 percent of the district’s operating budget. Carstarphen said that the district, like other local government bodies, are feeling the pinch. “We have hit the trifecta of bad budget news – a sluggish economy, state funding increases that have not kept pace with inflation and declining enrollment,” she said. “We are not immune to the hardships of an economic downturn.”
The St. Paul Board of Education has about four months to assemble and approve the district’s final budget. Carstarphen said the district’s challenge is finding ways to “become even more efficient and effective in the face of these declines and to maintain the optimistic course we have set.”
Michael Moore edits The St. Paul Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. This article is reprinted from the most recent edition of the Advocate.