Leaders advocate for 2 percent annual increases in basic education funding formula
The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District is hoping that parents of its students will hold sway over state lawmakers to ensure the district doesn’t face $20 million in budget cuts and adjustments over the next three years.
Superintendent Jane Berenz sent a letter to district parents this week that takes aim at what the district views as inadequate increase proposals to the basic education funding formula.
The district with close to 28,000 students receives a majority of its funding from the per pupil formula. State aids and credits account for about 75 percent of the district budget, according to Tony Taschner, communications director.
The Senate and the House have proposed annual increases of 1.5 and 1.25 percent, respectively, while Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposes 2 percent annual increases.
“If the Legislature does not approve funding increases of at least 2 percent for the next two years, we will face much more significant cuts that will include fewer staff and reduced opportunities for students in the very near future,” Berenz wrote.
The district is developing a budget plan for next fiscal year that will include $3 million in budget adjustments, including District Office staffing reductions, cuts to curriculum expenditures and professional development, and revenue enhancements.
“Even if we get the 2 percent, we are going to have to move forward with the $3 million in budget adjustments,” Taschner said.
Berenz said this would be the first time in four years the district will have to make budget adjustments, as voter approval of a 2013 operating levy stopped the run of budget reductions.
“District 196 taxpayers have done their part to support quality schools by approving increases in local funding, when needed,” she said.
She urged parents to advocate for the 2 percent annual increases, noting that the state has a $1.65 billion budget surplus. Providing a 2 percent increase in the formula over two years would cost the state about $370 million, according to Taschner.
“Our schools are still recovering from years of under-funding by the state,” Berenz wrote.
Since 2003, increases in the basic state funding formula have averaged less than 1.5 percent per year; Berenz noted that in four of those years there was no increase.
“These actions resulted in significant cuts to school staffing and programs, and an increase in levy referendum elections and local property taxes all across the state,” Berenz said.
From 2009 to 2012, the district eliminated nearly 200 teaching, administrative and support staff positions; reduced transportation service to and from school; eliminated activity buses for after-school programs and increased student activity fees, Berenz said, in addition to having salary freezes.
After the alert went out, state Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, reported that he had received about 200 emails from concerned people in the district. Clausen is a former principal at Apple Valley and Rosemount high schools.
Taschner said several people contacted the district with messages of support and a handful of people were negative about the district’s advocacy for funding increases.
He said some of the detail that didn’t go in the alert was that the House’s proposal for 1.25 percent annual increases is actually more like 1 percent since two funding categories — compensatory and early childhood — would not be increased in the proposal.
He also noted that the district’s legislative priorities of increasing Special Education and Equalization Aid are not addressed in the proposed bills.
Taschner said the district funds $26 million annually of Special Education costs from the general fund. Local districts have long clamored for the federal government to fully fund its commitment to Special Education — a service the federal government mandates public school districts to provide.
The district also wants changes to Compensatory Aid, which Taschner said isn’t provided to District 196 even though it has more students in poverty — a key factor for qualifying districts — than four of the seven districts in the program.
He said 20 people from District 196, many of them members of the district’s 5-year-old Legislative Advisory Committee, went to the Capitol this session to advocate for these changes.
The alert to parents was an attempt to increase that advocacy.
Taschner said: “We don’t want to be in a situation after the fact where we are saying: ‘What could we have done?’ We want to say: ‘We have done everything we could.’ ”