Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Got your attention with that, didn't I? And I do mean it, although perhaps not in the way you think.
Every year in recent memory, the State of Minnesota surprises many with even more shenanigans when it comes to funding schools. Now, at least one gubernatorial candidate is promising to make it worse for another four years. (But that's a whole other story.)
The state is robbing Peter to pay Paul. In this case, it's taking money from schools to pay off other state expenses. One of the few things the state actually has to do is to fund education, but this fact apparently is lost on most in our government today.
In the meantime, partly because of declining enrollment and partly because of this government-sanctioned thievery, schools across the state have been forced to trim already lean budgets. Now, with billions of dollars being held hostage by the state, schools are told simply: Get the money you need from your local taxpayers.
Unlike any other government body in America, school districts must get permission from its taxpayers to raise taxes, particularly for operating or building levies.
Last year, the Kimball School Board asked for an increase in the property taxes paid locally. That modest increase was to replace an operating levy that will expire next year. And, oddly enough, because of a tax reduction the year before, even that increase would have meant lower property taxes, in most cases, than we paid two years prior.
That levy failed, by only a few votes. Some believe it failed because not everyone who favored the increase for our schools actually came out to vote. Many who favored it, didn't think it wouldn't pass. But it didn't. And the schools this year had to borrow an extra $1.3 million just to meet its obligations while continuing to wait for that school money the state is using for other purposes.
That has cost us a lot. Not just the $20+ thousand dollars in extra interest for this year alone. It has cost confidence in the Kimball schools, and in the Kimball community as well.
Where the School Board has failed us, if you want to look at it that way, is in creatively making up for the deficiencies of the state and of local voters. Follow me here.
If all of the teachers and programs that were considered for cuts had indeed been cut, voters and the community would have realized the severity of the situation. There would be no elementary band today. No cheerleading. No junior high or C-squad sports.
If the two-question levy fails to pass in November, things will truly be grave. About $385,000 (roughly 6.4 percent of the annual $6 million budget) will need to be cut for the 2011-12 school year in order for the schools to remain open. The most likely targets to cut: art, band, choir, ag, shop, college-level courses, speech, drama, all after-school programs, and sports (perhaps all sports). Cutting these non-essential-for-graduation programs will total about half of what needs to be cut. There are no other non-essential programs to be cut. There are no other non-mandated teaching or paraprofessional staff that can be cut.
So where do we go then? Many of us don't even want to think about that. But that, too, is the School Board's fault.
They've made cuts, painful cuts, over these past four years:
¥ $33,852 in support staff salaries cut
¥ the equivalent of 12 full-time teachers cut ($732,066)
¥ five paraprofessionals cut ($69,642)
¥ $22,657 in supplies cut
¥ $40,000 in staff development eliminated
¥ $15,743 from increased student activity fees and increased ticket prices.
A total of $1.5 million has been cut from Kimball schools since 2003.
Yet somehow, students continue to learn and thrive. Programs have continued, with the help of private donations, volunteer involvement, and considerable subsidies from booster clubs. Creative ways have been found to bring in grant money for needed playground equipment, or to augment teaching programs so students don't fall behind. But we're out of paliative measures and creative solutions.
The School Board has worked very hard to minimize the impacts of these cuts, each and every time cuts have been made. Perhaps this was a mistake, perhaps even a fatal mistake.
Here's what people think, when they don't see the process behind it: "The schools keep threatening to cut programs, and then they don't. They don't really need the money."
It's kind of like the mother of a dozen kids who has less and less money to feed her hungry family each week. Each week there's less meat in the soup. Each week, it's watered down to make the dwindling quantity go further. An outside observer may see the children are eating a big bowl of soup, and stomachs may be full for awhile, but there's not much substance to it. It's more illusion than reality.
Come to the public meeting at
7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the KAHS cafetorium to get information first-hand from the School Board why this operating levy, and both questions on it, are essential to the survival of our students and schools. Don't leave until your questions have been answered.
Please don't be complacent. We can't afford for people to be indifferent or to do nothing.
Don't look at the school's "table" and see bowls of "soup" that are "good enough" for our students. Instead see the desperate needs that only this operating levy can fulfill.
For eleven years now, I've been attending School Board meetings. I've seen board members come and go, superintendents come and go, and now a few levy campaigns come and go. I've been watching the "cooks" make do with less and less each year. The situation truly is far more serious than it appears.
Blame the Board for protecting our students and schools from the full impact of the state's funding games, if you will.
Blame me for not writing more convincingly about the situation, if you want.
Please, get informed, and vote YES YES on Nov. 2. The future of our very community depends on it.