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As Candidates Court Voters, MN School Leaders Detail Budget Woes

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Thursday, September 1, 2022   

Most Minnesota school districts are preparing to welcome back students next week, and some administrators are expressing growing concern over their budgets. It coincides with different education viewpoints in the race for governor.

Matt Hillmann, superintendent of Northfield Public Schools, said they were able to avoid budget cuts the previous decade, but declining enrollment and other factors led to a $4.5 million reduction plan this year.

Hillman added they cannot lean on budget reserves forever.

"We see potential budget reductions again on the horizon, and the pressures that we have are no different than the pressures that other districts have," Hillman pointed out. "This is what I hear from my colleagues across the state."

He said a big help would be final adoption of a bill to address shortfalls in special-education subsidies. Hillmann also welcomes using Minnesota's historic surplus to help districts.

Gov. Tim Walz had pushed using surplus money to boost per-pupil aid. His Republican opponent, Scott Jensen, unveiled a plan to prioritize using public-school funding for private-school vouchers. He also wants to phase out the state income tax, which provides education dollars.

Ann-Marie Foucault, superintendent of the St. Michael-Albertville District, said they have cut 78 staff positions in the past two years. She cites rising expenses, especially during the pandemic, as well as revenue declines in certain areas, making it hard to afford highly-trained educators.

Foucault feels the budget surplus stalemate in the last legislative session was a missed opportunity.

"We lost a lot of teachers and staff members, paras, custodians, bus drivers because we weren't able to pay them this last spring or the year before," Foucault noted. "That's very disheartening."

In the end, Foucault added, it is the students who lose out.

"We're moving into having 25 to 27 kindergartners in a class, which is horrendous," Foucault stressed. "We have 43 to 48 in our high school classes after two years of cuts."

As for the state surplus, political analysts say it appears a special session will not happen anytime soon to approve supplemental budget bills.


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