VOICES | Cold Facts. Heart Warming Stories.

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After a restful festive snow graced holiday, I made a few visits to our state Capitol and its House and Senate educate finance committees, and to Minneapolis Public Schools for board meetings and as a member of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee. Talk about stepping into the cold hard realities of Minneapolis in January 2009.

• State of Minnesota revenues are $4.8 billion less than its expenses for the 2-year, 2010-11 funding biennium.

• K12 Education represents a shrinking share (39 percent today) of the state budget and, depending on which factor is used to calculate inflation, the funding amount for public education has at best remained flat and at worst declined since 1984.

• It is almost inevitable that state funding of public education will decline in the next few years. For perspective, in the unlikely event that the education budget would remain untouched and remain where it is today, it would require cutting all other remaining state budget expenses by 25 percent.

• Regardless of these inevitable future state funding reductions to education, MPS today faces the need to cut $28 million budget shortfall for its 2009-10 and $36 million for its ’10-11 school year.

Ah, was the point of this article supposed to be just a gloomy outlook for a cold the future of Minneapolis public schools?

Actually, quite the opposite.

As much as I’m a fan of facts and figures to put situations in perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that facts and figures have a limited ability actually move us. (Except perhaps to establish a sense of fear and urgency to act, but not always in a positive direction.)

But give me a good personal story. That’s where the real action is. Stories transcend the cold facts that fill our heads and warmly touch our hearts. Stories have soul. They lift us. They inspire us. They deliver human connection, hope and strength.

In doing the campaign work of the school referendum last year, we had an epiphany. Upon visually mapping the audiences who would most support our schools, we came to the conclusion that the closer someone is to a school the more supportive they are of it. That closeness might be physical, such as having children in it, living near a school or working there, or it might be emotional, such as by knowing someone who has children in a school or works there.

We need people to get closer to our schools to better connect with them. But in our city of just about one of every six households with children of school age, getting close to our schools is a bit of a challenge. It may not be so effortless to experience amazing things happening in our nearby school. So let me propose this new year’s resolution. Walk into your neighborhood school this next week. Ask them how you can visit or volunteer. Ask if they have a theater or band or dance or sports event scheduled soon. And then return. Bring a friend or go alone. Experience your neighborhood school. I can almost guarantee you’ll come out with a great story you can share. Or you might hear a story from someone you meet during your visit.

Don’t forget, it’s winter of 2009. Wrapping ourselves in a warm blanket of stories that connect us and deliver hope, strength and belief in the future of our children might be just what we need to help us through a blistering wind chill of budget and economic facts and figures.

Steve Kotvis, a Kenwood resident serves on a number of boards and committees relative to public education and offers a monthly perspective in the Hill & Lake Press “Minneapolis Minds” column. He can be reached at stevek@elemenoP.us.

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