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Minnesota budget plan leaves less for schools

MOORHEAD - Local school officials say they're glad there's finally a state budget compromise in St. Paul, but they're not happy that shifts in funding will force public schools to borrow more money, ultimately leaving less to teach students.

Last year, Minnesota delayed 30 percent of state school aid payments.

The compromise plan reportedly calls for delaying 40 percent of aid payments. That means schools will get only 60 percent of the money they've been promised this fiscal year, with the remainder coming in the following fiscal year.

Moorhead Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak said the 30 percent hold-back forced his district to borrow about

$5 million to make cash flow last school year.

The 60/40 split will mean Moorhead will have to borrow $8.5 million to $9 million this time around, he said.

Breckenridge School District Superintendent Rick Bleichner said the budget shift will cost about $50 per student in his district, money that would otherwise go to their education.

"I'm very disappointed with what they've done with schools," Bleichner said. "Once again, they've looked to balance the budget of the state of Minnesota on the backs of education. I can't think of any educator that thinks that we've won in this situation."

While "not a total surprise," Kazmierczak said balancing the state's books by playing with school budgets won't work forever.

"It speaks to the fact that it's just further delaying the inevitable," he said. "The Legislature is going to have to deal with how schools are funded. This is going to push the solution off into the future."

Kazmierczak said Minnesota is going to have to come up with a more predictable, equitable and sustainable way to fund schools.

"One of these years, they're going to have to figure it out," he said.

Moorhead Superintendent Lynne Kovash said the state could help by repealing some mandates.

She'd like to see more flexibility in how a 2 percent set-aside for staff training can be spent. She'd also like the Jan. 15 deadline for teacher contracts to be lifted, because many districts, like Moorhead, have waited to begin talks in earnest until the Legislature made its budget decisions.

She said last fall's decision by voters to allow an $850-per-student operating levy is providing needed stability in Moorhead. Seventy percent of that money was to be used as a stable funding source.

"As we can see with what happened with our Legislature, that is so important at this time," Kovash said.

Bleichner said school districts shouldn't be forced to borrow so the state can make its books balance.

"It's not a win situation for education. They just keep kicking the can down the road. That's exactly what they're doing," Bleichner said.

"As an educator and as an administrator, it's extremely disappointing. ... You just get tired of it," he said. "It's a constant beating that education is taking with the funding. It needs to change, it really does."

Christie Worner, business manager for Perham-Dent School District, said her district will probably be borrowing more money to make its bills, too.

She said her district had hoped that the Legislature would not reduce aid in this budget.

"Obviously, it's not going to help," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583