Wednesday, December 01, 2004

- 24.3 Million

If you thought things couldn't get worse, they have. A 24.3 million dollar shortfall in the Saint Paul Public School district's budget is staring them right in the face. The district has been nicking the bone already, as they have trimmed the fat, and some of the lean, to get into balance.
After five years of continuous program-shaving worth more than $50 million, St. Paul's budget-watchers have come up with their worst projected shortfall yet. And it all means, Harvey lamented, that the district since 1999 will have cut nearly $75 million in staff and programs.
I had been concerned about past referendum proposals and my belief that the district hadn't tightened it's belt enough. I voted against the referendums as I believed there was more the district administration could do to streamline themselves into a lean mean education machine. But now it is apparent to me, that the best efforts have been made to assume fiscal responsibility, while still succeeding in this challenging urban educational environment. Test scores have risen, and schools are improving, in spite of the financial limitations.

What's next:
The time has come . . . for St. Paul to join the growing roster of Minnesota school districts pressing the governor and the Legislature to stop the slide. St. Paul officials plan to join an effort next week by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts in sounding the alarm about a deepening gloom in districts across the state. Revenues simply are not keeping pace with expenses, educators say, and children will ultimately pay.
In the past, we have blamed enrollment declines, but with the influx of refugees, that decline has been stifled somewhat. Furthermore, the district's Finance and Budget director states:
the main culprit has been four years of unchanging state revenues and continually increasing costs. She cautioned that simply increasing the basic per-pupil aid formula holds little hope to avoid a deficit. For every increase of 1 percent in the state general education formula, St. Paul would net only another $2.3 million.
It is time for a closer look at the educational coffers in this state. I am not sure how much more the district can endure, and still meet the grocery lists of expectations being placed upon them by state and federal governments while refusing to provide adequate funding. Superintendent Harvey explains:
"Without a doubt, we are in danger. And if we don't think carefully about this, we will lose all that good that we have gained," Harvey said.
Folks, you can only take out the knife so many times, and if you keep cutting and cutting, at some point there isn't anything left, but the vital organs needed for any entity to survive. The St. Paul School district is no different.


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