Schools need help: Take time to vote on Tuesday
These are precarious financial times for Minnesota schools.
School boards have cut spending and raised fees, but more and more are having to ask voters for more revenues through operating levies.
Those levies used to be called "excess levies," because they were intended to pay for extras, above and beyond regular school operations.
Well, no more.
More than 60 districts are holding operating levy referendums Nov. 3, up from 43 districts last year.
Economic times being what they are, it's not a time most superintendents would hold an election, if they felt they had any choice.
School districts in this area have been careful with their money and have repeatedly made large budget cuts, but they need the operating levies just to break even or reduce the size of the cuts.
Years of under-funding by the state is responsible for the current situation. Districts have suffered an inflation-adjusted 13 percent drop in aid since 2003.
Districts have asked local voters to raise property taxes to make up the difference, but when totaled statewide, districts are still 4 percent behind their 2003 budgets.
Doesn't seem like that much? Consider this: If state funding had merely kept pace with inflation, Lake Park-Audubon would be receiving nearly $300,000 a year more than it does now, even with its $500-per-student operating levy.
Because the state does not adequately fund education, more than 90 percent of Minnesota school districts require local taxpayers to directly support their schools through local levies.
Looking ahead, districts will see no increase in state aid in the next two years. Also, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has approved a tax shift which delays 27 percent of state aid to the following year.
Under these harsh financial realities, school districts have no choice but to ask local voters to help keep their school afloat.
It's a hell of a way to run a railroad, but until the state gets its own financial house in order, local taxpayers are going to have too come to the rescue, or watch their once-excellent schools deteriorate.