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State Investment Plan for Schools Falls Short-Schools prepare to Reduce Budgets, Increase Class Sizes

posted Apr 27, 2015, 7:32 AM by Kari Osborne   [ updated May 20, 2015, 7:55 AM by CEL Marketing PR Design ]
Dear Community,

The state of Minnesota has a $1.9 billion budget surplus, but the current education funding proposals at the Capitol fall short of what’s needed in the Princeton and other schools across Greater Minnesota.

It is not too late for our local legislators to right the budget, and make the right decision to support the future, through our schools, for our students. I am hoping that we will see some upward movement shortly.

For those of you who have not been following our School Board’s actions, in March, our Board passed a resolution supporting 5% and 5% increased in education budgets over the next biennial. Approximately 80% of our funding comes through the State, and school districts have endured some very challenging funding over recent years, with a total of 3% per pupil formula funding growth over the past five years, between 2009 and 2013.

Inflation has outpaced the rate of Minnesota school formula funding, while many rural areas have been experiencing declining enrollment. School budgets are comprised of approximately 80% of our budgets spent on the people the school district employs.

The state budget is now in its best condition in many years to more fully fund school districts across the state.

In Princeton, our enrollment has been declining at the same time that state funding has not been keeping pace with inflation. With enrollment declining and state funding not keeping up, this creates additional challenges in balancing the budget. In Princeton the first priority has been to maintain our class size parameters. During the 15-16 school year we will be at the top of those parameters as we are reducing our budget by approximately $600,000.

Our School Board has passed District Class Size Guidelines, with ranges outlined by grade levels:

Kindergarten: 19-21 students

First Grade: 20-23 students

Second and Third Grade: 22-25 students

Fourth and Fifth Grade: 23-26 students

Sixth through Twelfth Grade: 25-30 students

These guidelines have not changed, as they were also passed for the 2014-2015 school year. A majority of our class sizes are within these guidelines. However, after our budget adjustments, they will be closer to the top of the guidelines. These are still reasonable class sizes.

Obviously, our School Board does not wish to go above those parameters, as it would negatively impact our teachers’ effective practices. Tough decisions have to be made regarding curriculum and technology tools in the classrooms as we don’t have enough funding to cover the 21st century learning environment.

We also need to continue to maintain our buildings. Students need a safe, secure and pleasing environment to work in. In Princeton 1% and 1% will not be enough to maintain our class size parameters in the future while continuing to make 21st century learning environment improvements.

School districts across the state expect similar results. A recent statewide survey by MREA of school superintendents found that the proposed 1 percent funding for education each of the next two years (commonly referred to as 1% & 1%) will mean larger class sizes, fewer electives and non-tenured teacher reductions in Greater Minnesota schools.

The 124 superintendents who responded to the survey reported that funding level will result in the layoffs of 160 teachers and 80 support staff and a total of $17.4 million in budget reductions in the next school year, according to MREA.

The MREA report found the effects on students will be as follows: (in descending order of frequency reported in the state survey):
  1. Larger class sizes at all levels
  2. Fewer high school electives
  3. Supply budgets frozen or cut
  4. Less expansion of technology for students and classroom use
  5. Less access to support personnel such as guidance counselors, social workers, technology support
These could be avoided with more adequate state funding for education. If Minnesota elected leaders invested half the $1.9 billion surplus for education, they could provide sufficient K-12 resources to maintain class sizes and electives across Minnesota and meet other education priorities including early learning. That’s the type of investment Minnesota needs in education. The basic education formula has not kept up with inflation for the past 12 years.

The Minnesota Legislature will finalize and approve its budget for the next two school years by early May. Contact your representatives and senators.

Sincerely,Dr. Julia Espe, Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools