Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
If you've already made up your mind to vote against any school levy, no matter what, then I suggest you go now to the story about Mike Schultz on page 3. Reading this article won't change your mind, and it'll just waste your time.
However, if you're curious about how Minnesota schools are funded, and how the Kimball schools in particular use their funds, then please read on. This will give you a beginner's view of how it all works.
There are similarities between a school budget and a home budget. There are significant differences too.
With a home budget, we have a set of monthly expenses we can expect; these include a mortgage payment, utilities, car payment and expenses, groceries and eating out, and hopefully a little money left over for entertainment or savings.
Schools have similar set expenditures, but with a very big difference: the state controls what school districts can and cannot spend. (And there's no "leftover" money at the end.)
It's called a fund-balance system.
At home, one way to monitor and control expenses is to use envelopes in a box. Each envelope is for a particular expense, like groceries or utilities or gasoline, and money is placed into each envelope to pay those expenses. School districts use "envelopes" too, but they're called "funds," with each fund designated for a particular expense.
For example, Fund 2 is for food service. It includes groceries and kitchen expenses to feed our students. When a new stove or refrigerator is needed for the school cafeteria, it must be paid for with money from Fund 2, if there is enough money in Fund 2. Money collected for breakfast and lunch is placed in Fund 2 to pay expenses for food service.
Fund 7 is the Debt Service Fund. It pays the mortgage on the school buildings. The money that fills Fund 7 is property tax revenues.
Fund 4 is an "activities" fund. It is used for Community Education, Early Childhood programs, latchkey and daycare programs, and general community programs and activities. Fees collected for these programs are placed in Fund 4 to pay related expenses.
Fund 1 is the "General Fund". Fund 1 is used to pay utility bills and building repairs and maintenance. It is also used to purchase cleaning and educational supplies, computers, and lawnmowers. It is used for other expenses that don't fall under any other fund categories.
With a home budget, you rely on a steady income to pay your expenses. And the goal is to keep your expenses within that income level. You look forward to a raise in income each year to keep up with expenses which are increasing too. The price of groceries doesn't go down from one month to the next. What you pay to light or heat your home increases each year. And there's always something unplanned, like an urgent car repair or medical bill, that can throw off even the most careful budget.
When there's an increase in income Ð a raise, or a bonus Ð you might use it to replace an appliance, take a vacation, or sign up for more cable channels. In a year when there is no raise, no bonus, and especially if someone in the household loses a job, then you have to reduce expenses. You might cancel cable TV, forego a vacation this year, or cut back on Christmas spending.
The school district's "income" comes from two sources: the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the county.
MDE income is based on a flat rate per student per day the student is in school. When a student is absent, or when school is cancelled, the schools receive less money Ð much as your paycheck is less if you don't come to work. When a student open enrolls in another district, their per-student "income" goes to that other school district. Likewise, a student open-enrolling in Kimball schools brings "income" to the school. Declining enrollment, which is a state-wide problem, directly reduces the district's income.
The county sends a portion of property taxes it collects twice a year to the school district, with the payments made after all those taxes are collected.
Expenses for schools increase each year, just like for the rest of us. But there have been no "raises" in school income from MDE since July 2008. (That "raise" was only $50 per student for an entire year.) As with a home budget, when income doesn't increase but expenses do, then reductions in spending must be made.
As school income has dropped, so has school spending. While utilities and other expenses keep going up, reductions were made to keep spending in line with income.
Since 2005 both income and spending have been roughly equal. Salaries and benefits have consistently been more than 80 percent of the school budget, and these are negotiated every-other year between the district and the labor union Education Minnesota. So cuts have been made elsewhere, but only to the point of "breaking even."
Schools are in the business of educating students; students are their "product," so to speak. The state, MDE, sets the standards which our "products" must meet. Many of the spending reductions by the district have been in areas of education that are not part of the required standards. For instance, arts and athletics are not part of graduation requirements, but students must pass state-wide standardized tests in math, reading and writing in order to graduate.
Fewer students = less income = more cuts.
... to be continued