Only in some inflationless dream world can it be said that the Duluth schools are “getting more money”My seventh-grader decided to join the cross-country ski team this year, so she trekked down to East High for the information meeting and collected a list of fees. Those include the $185 activity fee, the $58 trail fee, the $35 Nordic Ski Fund contribution, the $75 bus transportation fee, $110 for a warm-up jacket (optional), and a requested donation to the Duluth East Athletic Association.
By: Pete Langr, Duluth Budgeteer News
My seventh-grader decided to join the cross-country ski team this year, so she trekked down to East High for the information meeting and collected a list of fees. Those include the $185 activity fee, the $58 trail fee, the $35 Nordic Ski Fund contribution, the $75 bus transportation fee, $110 for a warm-up jacket (optional), and a requested donation to the Duluth East Athletic Association.
How times have changed. When I was in junior high and went out for a sport, every comparable expense was paid for by the school district.
Evidence of financial strain isn’t just in the sport programs. One friend of mine vehemently told me that if she could afford it, she’d send her fifth-grader to Marshall, where her daughter wouldn’t be crammed into a room with 35 others.
But my eyes must deceive me, because State Representative Pat Garofalo of Farmington, last week took it upon himself to oppose the Duluth school’s proposed operating levy. Garofalo writes that taxpayers have been “very generous,” that the schools are “getting more money” and must be “planning on even bigger spending increases.”
Mind you, Garofalo isn’t talking about money being spent on the facilities plan. Garofalo is talking about funding for general classroom expenditures, such as class-size reduction. Without the facilities plan (and the tax levy to fund it), we might be in even deeper doo-doo, dipping into classroom funds to keep open inefficient schools.
Garofalo’s main argument rests on his statement that the Duluth school district’s per-student expenditure has risen from $7,936 in 2003 to a projected $10,281 in 2013, a 30-percent increase. Garofalo writes that this is “higher than inflation over the past 10 years,” although he neglects to tell us that the difference is one percent.
Unfortunately for those who like their statistics to be useful, Garofalo also doesn’t tell us that he’s using the Consumer Price Index as his measure of inflation, which measures inflation for things such as shampoo and cars and entertainment. Schools don’t buy much entertainment or cars or shampoo, so the department of education, which released Garofalo’s numbers, also uses another inflation indicator, the Implicit Price Deflator, which is supposed to more accurately measure what schools need to buy. By this indicator, Duluth’s schools have lost nine percent of their purchasing power since 2003.
Garofalo also doesn’t bother to tell us another part of the story, which is that his numbers include local property tax revenues. When those local property tax revenues are left out of the calculation, Duluth’s school revenues (from the state) have dropped by at least nine percent over ten years (using the CPI) or 18 percent (using the IPD).
Only in some inflationless dream world can it be said that the Duluth schools are “getting more money” or that the state is “generous.”
Worse, the less-than-inflationary increases that the Duluth schools have seen from the state are often restricted funds, which can’t be used for general classroom expenditures, and the state has been delaying payments to the school district, which to date has required the district to incur $156,000 in borrowing costs to cover the shortfall.
We have to expect this situation to continue, since Garofalo is the chairman of the Minnesota House Education Finance Committee. With Garofalo’s creative attitude towards school finance, and the ongoing failure of the state to deal with its budget issues, we certainly can’t expect state funding of schools to catch up to inflation any time soon.
Garofalo’s writing about the supposed profligate spending of the Duluth schools is unfortunately titled “Get facts before raising your taxes.” While Garofalo uses some facts, he does not, by any stretch of the imagination, tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So I will finish that job for him.
Using department of education figures, and based on 2003 levels of funding, for Duluth’s school revenues to at least stay even with the CPI, we must pass part one of the referendum. (This is because the effect of part one is largely to replace existing levies which will end after 2013.) To make Duluth’s school funding stable, based on the more relevant IPD, we must pass both parts one and two of the referendum. And to give the schools a bit of a raise, we must say yes to all three.