Local schools join chorus of budget boos

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 1, 2001


Thursday, February 01, 2001

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s budget proposal has two local superintendents nervous about school funding and the future.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;There’s not much in the budget that’s good for schools,&uot; said Dr. David Prescott, Albert Lea Area Schools superintendent. &uot;A lot of us are surprised by it. We have huge surpluses projected, yet the schools are being overlooked.&uot;

Alden-Conger Schools Superintendent Rita Usselman said she was offended by the governor’s proposal to keep K-12 funding at its current levels. Ventura gave no increase in the basic funding formula for 2002, and a modest $65 million increase in 2003.

Public school officials around the state were hoping for something close to the $1.3 billion increase they received in Ventura’s last budget. Instead they received an increase of barely 1 percent.

&uot;It’s almost a slap in the face, really,&uot; she said, &uot;especially with the increasing costs we’re facing with energy and health insurance.&uot;

Usselman said her district has already paid more than $10,000 more for heating this winter than last.

&uot;That’s about half of a teacher’s salary,&uot; she said.

&uot;That’s a huge chunk of money for us.&uot;

Alden-Conger Schools are running a bare-bones operation as it is, said Usselman, and her school can’t afford to be thinking about cuts.

&uot;We aren’t one of those schools with new arenas and new football fields,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m not against any of those things, but some districts may actually have some room for cuts. We don’t have any fat to trim from our budget.&uot;

According to Prescott, inflation will eat up a lot of the district’s budget if Ventura’s proposals are actually enacted. Cuts would be inevitable, he said.

&uot;We would definitely be in a huge reduction mode,&uot; Prescott said.

He’s hoping the legislature will look past the governor’s budget proposal for schools and consider a bigger investment.

&uot;I’ve told our local legislators what we really need,&uot; Prescott said. &uot;I’m afraid none of the things I told them are in the governor’s budget.&uot;

Prescott is hoping the legislature will consider helping schools in a handful of areas including an increase in the general per-pupil funding formula and a raise in the equalization cap.

&uot;Schools in this area are struggling with enrollment, so the general per-pupil funding formula is a big one.

We need a decent increase. It’s like a standard-of-living increase for us,&uot; said Prescott.

Funding deficits in special education ($1.4 million annually) and the English as a second language program ($250,000 annually) are tough on the district’s budget, Prescott said. Full funding in those two areas would be a significant help.

He said the district also needs emergency assistance for high energy costs and a maintenance allowance for technology.

&uot;Many schools, and we’re one of them, have invested a lot of money in technology in the last five years. Now we’re trying to figure out how to maintain them,&uot; Prescott said.

Usselman is concerned about taking care of her staff as the district approaches a new round of contract negotiations if the governor’s budget is passed, or if school funding isn’t raised significantly.

&uot;I can’t go to the table empty-handed. A little thank-you note isn’t going to do it,&uot; she said.