To the editor,

School districts across the north side of the Twin Cities Metro are facing budget cuts that are real and devastating to the districts and the students. Chisago Lakes, North Branch and Cambridge-Isanti are all cutting their budgets by millions of dollars. Princeton is looking at smaller amounts, but cuts nonetheless. 

I know people are saying, “We recently voted on bond referendums and operating levies for our schools! How can this happen?”

Bond referendums are for building improvements, new construction and equipment, while operating levies are for learning such as hiring teachers to lower class size or add additional science teachers. 

The general fund dollars on which a district must operate come primarily from the state of Minnesota using a “per pupil” formula basis. Districts develop their budgets on moving targets that can lead to the budget deficits. These variables include: will enrollment increase or decrease, will the number of students with special needs go up or down, will fuel costs go up or down? 

Districts build budgets based on a best guess using the projections they have. Unfortunately, millions of those dollars are based on factors outside of a district’s control. These factors make an enormous impact on a district’s budget – sometimes creating paralysis within a district.

It really does come down to one question: Will Congress ever live up to the commitment they made 40-plus years ago promising they would fund special education service mandates at 40 percent (it’s closer to 17 percent)? Will the Minnesota legislature increase “per pupil” funding or help low-tax-capacity schools like Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Cambridge-Isanti and Princeton by equalizing bonds and levies? 

I know there are serious concerns about these negative budgets, and I believe the best thing people can do is to contact their state senator, state House members, congressmen and United States senators. Ask them for funding increases to the “per pupil” funding formula and to commit to 40 percent funding at the federal level for special education mandates.

What I’m really concerned about is that State Representatives Anne Neu and Brian Johnson are not supportive of public schools, especially given that State Representatives Bob Dettmer and Sondra Erickson were both teachers. It remains to be seen whether they will support increases to school funding. State Senators Karin Housley, Andrew Mathews and Mark Koran seem to want more mandates on public schools, but I don’t know if they support more funding for them.

Kirsten Hagen Kennedy

North Branch

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