Editorial: Ready for more school cuts?

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The so-called break the Mankato School District recently got is guaranteed to be short-lived. Instead of needing to cut $3 million from next year’s school budget, the board only had to cut $1 million, protecting positions and programs from the ax.

An arbitrator’s ruling on teacher contracts saved the Mankato district from more drastic cuts next school year. Other school districts won’t be so lucky. Waseca is undergoing the painful process of cutting $2 million from its budget.

The state teachers union says it fears layoffs could top 1,000 teachers and staff next year, closing schools and ballooning the number of kids in classes across the state.

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And the 2011-12 school-year budgets will be much worse. No matter how you would perform on a required math test, you could figure out that the financial outlook for the state, and therefore school finance, is dismal.

The Minnesota Office of Management and Budget projects a $5.7 billion deficit will greet lawmakers in 2011. If interest is added into the deficit, it climbs to $7.5 billion. And federal stimulus money won’t be available to help out as it did this year to retain school positions.

Although districts such as Mankato may have dodged a more dangerous bullet this year, ammunition is plentiful. Now is the time for parents, educators and community members to brainstorm about ways to protect students from the predicted dollar shortfall during the 2011-2012 school year. There is no way to avoid staff and program cuts with this kind of deficit staring us in the face. But with as much planning and thought and cooperation as possible, communities may be able to lessen the suffering.

At the recent Mankato school budget meetings, attendance was dismal with only a handful of people turning out. That kind of lack of interest isn’t going to get us through these very hard times.

Lawmakers and school administration need to know what communities’ priorities are when it comes to their schools. If the community thinks all-day, everyday kindergarten should be retained, then its supporters need to speak up soon as well as offer ideas on ways to protect it.

Perhaps cooperation between districts can preserve programs or electives that districts alone won’t be able to offer anymore. Talks with other districts need to get under way.

The Mankato business community has taken a position on making early childhood education a priority because it pays off in the long run. Now is the time for business leaders to step up with ideas on how they can help retain and even strengthen that program.

Education has always been a topic of pride in Minnesota. If we want to keep our quality, now is the time to switch to crisis mode as we see in the distance the menacing shadow of the finances for the 2011-2012 school year.

— The Free Press of Mankato, March 21