Spring brings budget talksFor school districts, spring and summer bring budget deadlines. This is the culmination of a process that generally began months earlier with audit reports, the setting of levies, Truth In Taxation hearings and other detailed fiscal preparations.
By: Bill Gronseth, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
For school districts, spring and summer bring budget deadlines. This is the culmination of a process that generally began months earlier with audit reports, the setting of levies, Truth In Taxation hearings and other detailed fiscal preparations.
Duluth schools are taking steps to address a projected $3.8 million General Fund deficit for the 2012-13 school year. As a part of that process, public meetings were held to discuss the General Fund budget and share information about funding sources and expenditures (information and handouts are available at www.duluth.k12.mn.us). Meetings also took place between representatives from administration, teachers, principals and school board members.
Similar discussions are going on at districts across the state. For most, deficits are not a surprise; they’ve been around for nearly two decades. Deficits are projected into the foreseeable future, even as districts work diligently to reduce costs and operate as efficiently as possible.
Part of the challenge lies in the complexity and changing nature of school funding mechanisms.
Public schools started out rather simply in the 1800s as one-room schoolhouses, with a handful of students and one teacher. Taxes levied by local school boards provided the primary source of school funding.
During the industrial revolution, schools became larger with several teachers and separate classrooms for each grade level. Gradually, local funds were supplemented by state and federal appropriations to support growing school- and student needs.
With these funds came ongoing development of state and federal laws and mandates related to education, along with the need to ensure all students had access to similar opportunities. For example, in the late 1960s local tax levies in Minnesota were increasing, and in more affluent districts students had access to more funding and thus more advantages. Legislators responded by passing laws to “equalize” local funding by limiting the amounts local school tax levies could provide.
For many years, local levies provided a large portion of school funding in Minnesota. Then, during Governor Ventura’s administration, the state took on a greater share of school funding in part to offer local property tax relief. More recently, as the state faces its own budget challenges, the responsibility has gradually gone back to communities to provide financial support for local governments and public schools.
Today we deal with school funding mechanisms that are detailed and complex. There are dozens of funds and funding sources to consider, most associated with long lists of legal and/or contractual restrictions and mandates which determine how they can be spent. For example, in 2012 over half of the Duluth School’s total budget was restricted by state or federal law or contract to specific purposes.
The General Fund is the least restrictive and that’s the fund talked about when balancing budgets and asking the community to contribute to an operating levy. As educational leaders we work to ensure that the majority of that fund is spent in the classroom. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 2011 Duluth Schools spent about 71 percent of its General Fund on instruction, 8 percent on operations and maintenance, 8 percent on pupil support, 8 percent on administration, and 5 percent on instructional support.
Financial decisions cannot and should not be made lightly. As a community and as educators, we must continue to hold up our students as the center of the discussion. Your continued thoughts and input into these important conversations are welcomed and needed.
Bill Gronseth is the Superintendent of Duluth Public Schools. Contact him at (218) 336-8752 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.