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Minnesota school officials: Funding won't clear budget cuts

Officials at several area Minnesota schools say they're glad the state Legislature is looking at additional education funding, but a 2 percent increase proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty won't save their districts from budget cuts.

Officials at several area Minnesota schools say they're glad the state Legislature is looking at additional education funding, but a 2 percent increase proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty won't save their districts from budget cuts.

Under Pawlenty's budget proposal announced this week, public schools would receive a 2 percent annual increase in the basic per-pupil allowance and could receive another 2 percent by meeting state performance goals.

But considering the state's more than $2 billion surplus, some school district officials say a base increase of 2 percent isn't enough. A survey prepared by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts released this week found that only two of its 27 member districts either come out ahead or break even, despite the proposed 2 percent increase.

"In the years there wasn't a surplus, there was a 4 percent increase," said Ken Henry, Warren/Oslo/Alvarado superintendent. "I don't know that 2 percent is a suitable amount." Henry said even if the district meets performance goals, qualifying for a 4 percent increase, budget cuts still will need to be made. A 10 percent increase would be closer in line with what the district needs to balance the budget, he said. Henry said deficit spending for the district is projected at about $200,000 and officials are expecting declining enrollment to cut away from state funding increases.

Dale Salberg, Fosston School District superintendent, echoed Henry's concerns.

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"Two percent isn't going to cure any ills in the world, but it's better than nothing," he said. "The positive thing is that they are looking at some new funding."

Salberg said he expects the school would get the additional 2 percent funding for excellent performance, but doesn't like the uncertainty of the funding for subsequent years.

"With declining enrollment, we need all the flexibility we can get," he said.

Salberg said the Fosston district also is planning for budget reductions even with the possibility of a 4 percent increase in funding from the state. Without any additional funding from the legislature, they would need to cut about $100,000 to $200,000 or about 4 percent of their budget, he said. "That 4 percent is probably staff," he said. "We've done all the cutting around some of the edges we can."

Walt Aanenson, East Grand Forks School District superintendent, agreed with Henry and Salberg that the governor's budget proposal is thin in basic funding.

"It encourages all schools to do everything they can to achieve excellence," Aanenson said. "We'll do what we can and hopefully we'll be able to improve education."

Without any additional funds from the legislature, East Grand Forks School District officials have said they will need to make $600,000 to $800,000 in budget cuts.

Reach Ricker at (701) 780-1104, (800) 477-6572, ext. 104; or aricker@gfherald.com .

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