By Starrla Cray
What is the biggest challenge local schools are facing?
“I think we’d all answer ‘school finances’,” Delano schools Superintendent John Sweet said.
Superintendent George Ladd of Howard Lake Waverly Winsted schools, agreed. “The funding system is broken,” he said.
Ladd, Sweet, and five other local school leaders met at the Herald Journal office in Winsted March 16 to discuss current topics in education.
During the 2008-2009 school year, Minnesota schools received an average of $9,063 per student from state and local revenue sources, according to the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses.
However, that amount varies greatly for each school. State aid ranged from $7,000 to $11,000 per student, while local funding provided $0 to $2,500 for each student.
The formula for determining state education aid is largely based on each school district’s property values.
“It proliferates inequities among school districts,” Sweet said.
“The inequities have to be eliminated so we can all compete,” Ladd added. “It shouldn’t be based on property values.”
When schools don’t receive enough state funding, they have to rely on local levies for the remaining amount.
“We try to do the best we can with reasonable dollar amounts,” Dassel-Cokato schools Superintendent Jeff Powers said.
Powers said he is commonly asked what the school is doing to keep costs down and run efficiently.
“School finance is so complicated,” he said. “The system is so volatile. It’s hard to maintain trust from your voters.”
“We’re given the minimum to survive,” Lester Prairie schools Superintendent Greg East said. “And we still have to produce maximum.”
Watertown-Mayer schools Superintendent Karsten Anderson said another concern people have is the number of administrators and their salaries.
“The common theme I hear is that we need to cut back on administration,” he said, “but we have good people doing good work.”
Administration costs are “not a very high percentage” of a school’s budget, East added. Information about school expenditures can be found on the Minnesota Department of Education web site, www.education.state.mn.us.
“We’re all facing difficult fiscal issues,” East said. “We are giving people the best we can with what we’ve got.”
School funding problems existed long before the economy began to weaken, Sweet said.
“It’s even worse in tough economic times,” Powers commented.
“Obviously, the current crisis is much larger than just schools,” Anderson said, adding that schools may have to cut back on spending even more.
Another news article will be printed next week about the challenges being presented to schools during these trying financial times.