Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LEAF Fundraiser....FoodFest


LEAF - District 742
LEAF FLASH



First Annual Food For Thought Fundraiser This Sunday, October 3rd!

Sunday, October 3rd • 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tech High School Front Lawn
Join us for this first-annual fundraising event featuring a variety of food from area restaurants. All proceeds will support academics in the district and the P.A.K.R.A.T. literacy program at our schools. Enjoy delicious food, friendly conversation and activities that include performances by GREAT Theatre, visits from children’s book authors, games, face painting and more!

Ticket prices include admission, food and a
contribution to child literacy in District 742.

8 Adult food tIckets: $20 in advance /$25 at door
5 Student food tickets: $5 in advance / $7 at door
Advanced tickets available at District schools or www.leaf742.org.
Growing a stronger community through academics, activities,
arts and athletics.

The District 742 Local Education & Activities Foundation (LEAF) endowment fund provides supplemental funding for academics, activities, arts and athletics in the district’s schools.

LEAF
PO Box 1132
St. Cloud, Minnesota 56302
320-253-5780
www.leaf742.org



Monday, September 27, 2010

School Districts Becoming State's Banker: Danger Ahead

Friday's Strib carries a story that the state budget office announced earlier this month that it's tapping K-12 education funding for $142 million. The way this works is that money that should be paid out of the State treasury to school districts to meet payroll and other expenses will be held back. School districts will still have to meet their payroll, of course, but they will have to go into their reserves to pay for them. The state will "owe" the unpaid funds to school districts, but pay them at some undetermined time in the future, possibly in May of next year. This is actually a drop in the bucket: the state has already delayed payments to school districts totaling $1.9 billion. So what's another $142 million?! The State is using school districts as a bank, but a bank that makes loans, interest free, with no payment due date, and on demand.

This is a form of deficit spending. The state is causing school districts to spend more than the state is currently funding. But, under the Minnesota Constitution, the State is required to balance its budget. What that means is, of course, that the State of Minnesota cannot borrow (or bond) to keep its operations going. The State can borrow to build a bridge or road, because bridges and roads are capital assets that last over a long period of time. So, the authors of our Constitution deemed it appropriate to allow the State to borrow for road and bridge building over a long period of time (borrowing by issuing long term bonds), just like you might borrow to buy or build a house. When you borrow to build a capital asset, your liabilities go up, but your assets go up as well. So you haven't reduced your State's financial position.

On the other hand, borrowing to pay for current operations was deemed dangerous by the authors of our Constitution, because the legislature might be tempted to spend more than it was willing to tax for. But in recent years, the leadership in St. Paul has re-discovered an evasion of this Constitutional principle. Instead of borrowing by issuing bonds, they tell school districts to borrow instead. And so, all over the State, when teachers work for school districts, they will be paid with funny-money, funny because the school districts will pay the teachers with money borrowed through the issue of aid anticipation certificates, a form of short term bonds, or by drawing down their reserves. Now because interest rates are low right now, these aid certificates carry relatively low interest rates. But even so, the cost of this borrowing device can mount. Anoka Hennipen School District has already made $400,000 in interest payments this year.

To be technically accurate, some of the borrowing isn't strictly borrowing. Because some school districts have large unreserved fund balances, and the State can draw on these fund balances--suck them up as it were--to assist the State in its operational budget. One has to consider the probability that at some point a Governor who doesn't much care for paying these funds back, will decide that these school districts had too much money in the first place, so why pay it back, ever.

Now as the State digs itself deeper and deeper, and school district borrowing mounts, the risk to the State's financial viability increases. Republican Governor candidate Emmer has stated that if he is elected, the State will not begin to repay these state-forced loans until 2014. That allows him to tell the public that he has a plan to hold school districts harmless and still avoid painful taxation. But there is a grave danger in continuing to go down this path.

The success of this aid shift routine all depends upon continued low interest rates, and currently short term bonds are drawing extraordinarily low interest rates. But what will happen to the cost of this borrowing if the interest rates rise significantly? The State is playing a dangerous game here. If we continue to borrow and shift, we become addicted to it, because its so easy to make people happy when you can provide government services going without having tax for them. People are very angry about taxes right now. They also get angry if we increase class sizes, or cut back on nursing care assistance, and so on. So the solution is to find tricky ways of borrowing that don't technically violate the constitution. The risk will mount that if interest rates rise precipitously, the cost of this borrowing will rise extraordinarily and the house of cards will collapse.

Municipal bond interest rates, and related interest rates are now at historical lows. At any time in the next months or years, those rates could rise significantly. When that happens, the value of currently issued long term municipal bonds will fall precipitously, and the cost of new issues of short and long term borrowing will also rise precipitously. At that point, the folly of our current delusional finance system will become manifest.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I voted against the preliminary levy

I got an irate email from a citizen berating me for the fact that the Board of Education is considering a property tax increase for next year. I said, wait a minute, I voted against the increase proposal along with my colleague Dr. Les Green. But, his email claimed, we board members all got together and agreed that the board members who were up for election would vote no, and the ones who weren't up for election would vote no. Wow, that's a bit of paranoia, and totally false.

Five board members voted to consider the possibility of a tax increase next year. Three of the yes votes are up for election (two for a board position and one for a state office.) Two of the yes votes, Lalley and Harner, are not up for election. Two board members voted against considering the possibility, myself and Dr. Green, and I'm up for election this year, and Dr. Green is not. If the Board of Education was going to try to manipulate things (and we did not) then we could have arranged it so that the three board members up for election for school board voted no, and the four not up for election voted yes. We voted the way we voted, because that is what our conscience told us to do.

The vote on Thursday did not impose any tax. The people who voted for the preliminary levy did not vote to raise taxes: they voted to preserve the option to raise taxes in the event that the State imposed slashing cuts. They said, if those slashing occurs, we want to have the option to consider an increase, as painful as that may be. Dr. Green and I voted against the preliminary levy because we wanted to send the message that would could not support the tax increase option when that option came before the board for final approval. I had several reasons for taking this position. First, we are in the midst of a financial crunch that is impacting families and business in our community. While it is true that our district has the lowest tax rates of the big four neighboring districts here, I just didn't feel that this is the time to consider an increase. Second, last year, when we did our bond and levy, I said that I would support it, because we would NOT be increasing property taxes. And, in fact, our property tax rate stayed exactly the same, or dropped just a bit. I felt that having made that commitment, I needed to stay true to my word.

Third, I believe that the funding crisis that we face here is manufactured by irresponsible policies at the State level, and it is time that we here in St. Cloud and elsewhere in Minnesota School Districts say, enough is enough, stop imposing spending mandates on local districts without the funding to pay for those mandates. Last night, I mentioned. that the Anoka School district had a ten million dollar shortfall, that it made up by using $3 million of its fund balance, cutting 74 licensed positions and 47 unlicensed positions. I pointed out that at the same time, State mandates forced Anoka to spend $28 million more than revenues provided for special education. Anoka is forced by law to spend 28 million dollars than it has. If the state merely provided Anoka with full revenues for special education, Anoka would not have been required to make cuts at all: it would have been able to reduce property taxes substantially by eliminating its operating referendum.

There is a direct connection between the amount of property taxes at the local level and State unfunded mandates. In our school district the state is forcing us to spend $8 million more than we have for special education. We have frozen that budget for five year now, and every year, the state takes more away from us, making our deficit bigger. If the State fully funded its special education mandate, we could eliminate our operating referendum entirely, and still have money left over to spare. The only reason that we have property taxes here in St. Cloud for operations is that the State forces us to spend money that we don't have revenue for and they keep increasing the size of the mandate deficit. So my vote said, enough is enough, governor and legislators get this fixed.

If you want to help us do something about property taxes here in St. Cloud, I suggest you talk to the republican and democratic candidates for State office. Just ask them if they will promise to fully fund special education. Tell them our school district has cut every last dollar that the law allows us to cut; we can't cut another dime, because its against the law. Ask them if they will promise to join with other legislators and stop making us run our special education program at a deficit. Tell them if we did that in St. Cloud, we could cut property taxes significantly. Ask Banian, Gotwald, Hosch, Pederson and Hentges: Do you promise to stop making school districts run their special education programs at a deficit.? Don't take BS and evasion for an answer.

I've tried to be a straight shooter on this topic. I will not vote to increase property taxes this year. Its King, Gotwald, Hosch, Pederson or Hentges--Dayton, Emmer, or what's his name, that are going to have to decide whether to run our district in the ditch by continuing Pawlenty's practice of forcing up the cost of special education while driving down financial support for our district. Right now, the governor candidates and most of the legislative candidates are not facing up to this issue. So far, none of the republicans, and most of the Democrats, won't even talk about this issue. School property taxes are largely the result of the nearly half billion dollar special education deficit passed onto school districts by the governor and legislature ever year.

Later this year, the board will have to decide whether to increase property taxes. Dr. Green and I have said that we will not support that. But no other board member has yet voted to actually increase property taxes. The yes votes merely said that they refuse to decide until they know what the state is going to do. And that is not a lunatic position, as some have portrayed it. While I happen to have landed already in the No-camp, I think it is very unlikely that there will be any yes-votes at all when the time comes, unless state legislators inflict major further cuts in public education.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Doubling Student Performance Requires Collaboration, Persistence, and Humility

A couple weeks ago ago Thursday,I started writing on the concept of doubling student performance. The term doubling comes from a book by Allen Odden of the University of Wisconsin, titled Doubling Student Performance and finding the resources to do it." The concept of doubling, speaks to making a quantum leap in the performance of a sub-group of students who are not reaching proficiency. Odden's book reports the results of the University of Wisconsin's research into how school districts have taken these students--who are not performing at acceptable levels--and "doubled" their performance. Odden urges school districts to consider major strategic changes in the way that they deliver instruction, and he contends that the strategies requires are within our reach, but only if the teachers, administrators and board make a significant systemic commitment to the changes that are required. I want to take a minute in this post, however, to interpose a cautionary note.

Doubling focuses on raising the performance of students who are not realizing their full potential, and especially those students who are in the lower quartiles of performance. Its a huge undertaking, often aspired to, but often subject to failure. The entire charter movement in Minnesota was launched under the Perpich administration primarily to address this mission on the theory that competition in the marketplace would foster significantly better results for the students in the lower quartiles. In fact, while many charter schools do an exceptional job, independent State auditor reviews have shown that on the average charter schools have not done any better at this than traditional public schools.

My cautionary note is that we must undertake any gigantic effort like this with a heavy dose of humility--a humility that says, we don't know all the answers. We have to adjust what we do to what is working. We need to recognize that the history of education is littered with sudden changes in direction in which the entire education establishment suddenly concludes that what we have done before is fundamentally wrong, and that a new approach will deliver us to an educational promised land. The teaching of mathematics has swung wildly in the last several decades from basic arithmetic, to "new math," back to basic arithmetic, and then to an approach that sought to integrate mathematics with real life problem solving. For more than a decade, the middle school philosophy drove rigor out of some of our nations middle schools fueled by an educational ideology that virtually prevented the teaching of algebra until grade nine, banished foreign language from the middle grades, and focused heavily on emotional and social development. In the last five years, however, middle school education has swung so heavily in the other direction that across the country we are now virtually requiring that all students take algebra at least by 8th grade, even if they are not ready to do so. Anytime we undertake a mission, and doubling is a mission, we need to take care that missionary zeal does not lead us to do foolish things.

So as we undertake the doubling idea, we must be constantly humble--open to the possibility that we are succumbing to a new educational fad. I find the approaches described in the "Doubling" to be quite persuasive. In my next posts, I'm going to continue to list and discuss the ten doubling strategies identified by Odden that have been proven to work. Still, as we attempt to adopt these approaches here in St. Cloud, and in other school districts, I think we must exercise great care to make sure that the reforms we adopt make sense and that they are producing results. That involves listening to teachers, to parents, and constantly reviewing the testing results to make sure that our efforts are producing the progress we anticipate. It involves also communicating clearly the vision that we are undertaking, to bring the entire community on board. Making big change requires, well, ......big change.

My cautionary note was inspired also by an article in the August 31st's edition of Education Week which discusses the collapse of an early doubling initiative in the San Diego public schools initiated by then San Diego Superintendent Bersin and his academic Chancellor Anthony Alvarado (who had previously initiated major reforms in a New York City District). Faced with abysmal test scores, especially among San Diego's large non-English speaking student population, Bersin initiated a massive initiative called Blueprint for Student Success, which ran from 2000 until Bersin's 2005 Superintendent contract was not renewed. Bersin imposed a number of the strategies identified by Odden in his book on doubling. But the reforms lacked community support and were challenged as imposed through inflexible, dictatorial top-down measures. By 2005, the reforms were so controversial, and opposition to Bersin and Alvarado's methods so widespread, that the Blueprint for Student Success was terminated and Bersin's superintendency along with it. Another factor in the termination of the Bersin-Alvarado Blueprint for Student Success was the implementation of significant statewide cuts in financial support to education in California that forced termination of some of the most costly aspects of the Blueprint.

Now, a recent research report,Lessons in Reading Reform, Finding What Works published by the Public Policy Institute of California attempts to evaluate the successes and failures of the five year run of the Blueprint for Student Success. According to the report authors:

The reforms succeeded in boosting the reading achievement of students who had been identified as lagging behind at the elementary and middle school levels. The key element that seems to have driven this success was a significant amount of extra student time spent on reading, with a possible collateral factor being widespread professional development for district teachers. The combination was neither cheap to implement nor a magic bullet. But in elementary and middle schools it demonstrably worked. In high schools, with one exception, it did not.


The overriding impression from Lessons in Reading Reform--the report on the San Diego experience--should be that doubling efforts must be accompanied by a heavy dose of humility, as I have said. Anyone who claims to have discovered a magic bullet is mistaken. Anyone who claims that quantum leaps in achievement can result from the edict of a single visionary leader, or that it can be imposed by fiat from a school board, is deeply mistaken. I think that the lessons of the Blueprint's failure may be the following:

  • Any effort to implement major reforms must be accompanied by constant review to assess and report on results
  • Major reforms require clear communication with the community so that the community
  • Major reforms require resilience in the face of attempts to defend the status quo, but caution to assure that change is not made simply to be making change
  • Doubling efforts require time and here again, the support of the community, within the public system and in the community is critical to staying with those efforts.
  • Doubling efforts require collaboration within the education community to make sure that we are doing things that actually work

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

After School Academy

Today, I post on something a bit more mundane than the earth-shaking policy issues discussed in some prior posts. Nonetheless, I thought it would be interesting to mention some of the things that we are doing to address an important objective of the district--to attract more students into a college bound success path. Our school district has begun a number of initiatives to increase the number of students who are actively engaged in college preparatory work. The one I want to mention today is the creation of three College Bound After-School Academies. We know that many of the students who fail to thrive in high school or who fail to go on to college actually have the potential to thrive. One of the ways to get these students on the learning path is to make a connection between learning and a successful career. Last year, we held two sessions with parents and successful students from "first-generation" students, that is students whose parents did not go to college or other post high school career preparation (technical college, community college, etc). We heard that one of the keys to success is getting involved with other students who have "made the right choices," that is, to work hard, stay in school, and take difficult course work.

That's the goal of these academies, to provide a weekly session for students who need a boost to get on, or stay on, a strong academic path.

The Health Career Service Academy meets Monday afternoon from 3:30 pm—6:30 pm. It provides students with "the opportunity to explore careers involved in promoting health/ wellness and diagnosing and treating disease. Occupations include skilled jobs in nursing, laboratory, information technology, radiology, pharmacy, home health care, nursing assistance and more!" The students will learn CPR and 1st Aid, hear from many health care professionals, participate in service learning experiences." And, as part of the program, they will create a personalized plan for college and career success in the health field.

The Engineering & Math) Academy meets Tuesday afternoon from 3:30 pm—6:30 pm. It provides opportunities for students interested in a career in science, technology, engineering or math? "This program gives you the opportunity to explore careers that involve the design, development and creation of products using technology and machines. Occupations include skilled jobs in machining, metal and plastic processing, computerized machine operations and programming, engineering, drafting, welding and more! You will experience a broad range of STEM careers first hand." Students will go on field trips to local businesses, explore local colleges and create a personalized plan for college and career success.

The Super Success Skills Seminar - Digital Media Career Focus meets on Thursday afternoons. This program is designed to better prepare students for college and career with a technology focus. Activities include: creating your personalized path to post-secondary education, attending field trips; participating in team building and leadership activities; experiencing college first hand and listening to community speakers.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Emmer, Dayton, Horner Education Budgets: Call me disappointed

As we head into the meat of the gubernatorial and legislative campaign season, perhaps it is a good time to try to cut through some of the talk about the state of Minnesota school finance. We hear various candidates telling us that they are going to hold education harmless in one way or another, but still it seems to me that the campaign dialog is not drilling down to hard reality that doing that is going to take a whole lot of more thoughtful and courageous action than anyone is talking about today. The problem is on the funding side, on the spending side, and above all on the unfunded mandate side. Candidates rail about unfunded mandates, but they fail to recognize that most of the mandates cannot be removed, because they are federal mandates. Special education mandates, labor cost mandates, and funding reductions--concealed from the public eye through tricks and slights of hand--are creating a public education financial train-wreck than none of the statewide candidates seem willing to confront.

It is really hard to find something in the proposals of the three current candidates that might restore fiscal stability to Minnesota Public Education. The Emmer Budget states that he would freeze the state general fund spending for public education FY 2010–11 is set at $13.8 billion, a figure that Dayton claims is actually a cut. Emmer's website says: "Tom Emmer is committed to ensure that this critical spending of the budget is not reduced." Emmer promises to hold K-12 education harmless, but he fails to account for the one billion per biennium special education shortfall that is increasingly crippling school districts. In addition, Emmer suggests that he while he will freeze the general education budget, he will then redistribute those funds in ways that would cause significant cuts for school districts that Emmer does not identify. Under the Emmer Budget all school districts will be making significant cuts, and a number of school districts are going to receive devastating cuts, but he just isn't telling us which ones.

The Horner Budget is devoid of sufficient specifics to really understand what he is going to do with education and offers no clue that Horner has a grasp on K-12 finance. The Dayton website promises to provide more resources to K-12 education to make up for the revenue shifts and what Dayton argues is a decline in the inflation adjusted general fund formula. But Dayton offers no proposal to make sure that the increases that he would provide will restore financial stability to K-12 education. His proposal seems entirely on the revenue side, while avoiding any discussion of the cost side, which is critically important to K-12 education.

Call me disappointed.

In the last two years, the Minnesota basic funding formula was frozen, that is, the basic funding formula per student stayed exactly the same. In the prior two years, the funding formula increased a total of 3 percent, so that the formula increased by an average of 3/4 of one percent per year over those four years, losing significant ground to the rate of inflation and even further ground to the rate of school personnel cost increases. But that tells only part of the story. Special education expenditures in Minnesota have been increasing at a rapid rate driven primarily by state policy. Special education spending in Minnesota is doubling every 14 years or so. Total enrollment in all forms of public schools in Minnesota has fallen by about 1 2/10 percent since 2003, although in the last several years it has begun to rise again and is projected to continue to rise. But special education enrollment in the state of Minnesota has risen during that same time period by over 9 percent. In the same seven years, special education expenditures has risen by 500 million, and special education revenues to districts has risen by 400 million, increasing the shortfall by 100 million. But in the next several years, that shortfall is slated to grow massively and no candidate has offered a plan to do anything about it.

Rising Special Education Deficit Created by State Policy

This funding gap is completely out of the control of local school districts. In St. Cloud, we have frozen special education expenditures for four years, and still our funding shortfall in special education has grown substantially. That's because as other school districts increase their spending (while we keep ours frozen) the state reallocates the funding shortfall and gives us more of the shortfall. The Pawlenty administration, through a series of Commissioner rulings has forced special education costs upward while regularly submitting special education budgets to the legislature that significantly increase the gap between forced spending and state and federal reimbursement. That has allowed the Pawlenty administration to claim that they are holding districts harmless in regular education, while failing to mention that they are taking money out of special education from many districts. And, since it is against state and federal law to make compensating cuts, the result is to inflict reductions in the general fund formula, but out of the public eye.

In the last two years, as the funding formula has been frozen, most school districts have had to pull more and more money out of their regular education budget and transfer it over to their special education budget to cover the shortfalls coming out of the Pawlenty and legislative appropriations. Our efforts to freeze special education here in St. Cloud--imposing the greatest cost control allowed by state and federal law -- has still resulted in an increasing special education deficits. Other districts which have not been able to implement those cost controls have begun to surpass us significantly in the size of their special education deficits. Our ranking in special education deficit per student is falling significantly, but still our deficit rises.

But the State is projecting that this special education deficit problem will actually get worse over the next three years, and none of the candidates is proposing to do anything to reverse this problem. In the next several years, the Pawlenty administration is projecting a significant widening of the gap between state mandated spending and state reimbursement. Unless something is done about this, holding school districts "harmless" by freezing the regular education budget will be nothing but smoke and mirrors. The state will be forcing school districts to make huge cuts in their regular education programs by forcing them to transfer the money out of regular education and into special education. Again, this is not the result of wanton spending by local districts: it is the result of intentional efforts by the Pawlenty department of education to drive up the cost of special education, while widening the gap between mandated spending and state provided revenues.

Fund Balance Reductions....Rising Labor Costs

The Association of Metropolitan School District has issued a recent report on what metropolitan school districts have been doing to keep financially afloat. That report says that the 33 member organizations pulled money out of their fund balances for a total of $50 million, or on the average about $1.5 million per district. You can find the AMSD's Budget survey by clicking here. Now these fund balance reductions mean that these districts overspent their revenues this year at the average rate of 1.5 million dollars per district, and unless they keep cutting their fund balances (if they have any left to cut) they will have to make cuts of 1.5 million per district, on the average, just to stop the bleeding before any shortfalls are dealt with. Last year, those same districts made total "budget reductions" of $91 million for an average budget reduction of about $2.75 million per district. Also, a number of these districts face potential losses in operating referendum revenue if their operating referendums are not renewed.

Now when school folks talk about budget reductions, what they really mean is the amount of reductions that are required by revenue shortfalls combined with labor and other cost increases and revenue reductions. Rising labor costs are an important component in what is causing the budget reductions described in the report. Let's take Anoka-Hennipen district for an example. The gap between state funding increases and labor cost increases is out of control, and no candidate is offering a plan to deal with that either.

Anoka Hennipen Example. Let's take some numbers from the AMSD Budget Survey and look at what Anoka-Hennipen is facing next year. Anoka-Hennipen took $3 million out of its budget reserves this last year to avoid making further cuts. As I have said, in order to stay even, without increasing compensation costs a dime, Anoka-Hennipen will have to find another $3 million in cuts next year, or bleed down its reserves next year again by that amount, and of course, that cannot go on forever.

Anoka Hennipen reported budget reductions of $7 million just last year, in addition to the $3 million in reserve reductions. Anoka settled its teacher contracts at a MSBA reported total package cost increase of 4%, that is 2 percent per year. (Anoka Hennipen is using a reporting system that understates the actual total package cost as compared to the way our district reports total package cost. Our total package increase was 3 percent, but using the MSBA technique would be even lower, and so its compensation increases grew comparatively faster than these numbers would indicate) So, part of the reason that Anoka had to find a way to get rid of $10 million in expenses is that it raised its labor costs at 4 percent plus, when the State gave it no increase in regular education and likely reduced special education. You can claim that Anoka-Hennipen is just plain foolish, but that ignores the legal and practical structure surrounding public education in Minnesota. Anoka is running its school district and handling its labor costs in accordance with the collective bargaining rules imposed by the legislature, and its actions are the natural and probable and inevitable consequences of that state mandate. The consequence of that system is that employees receive compensation increases, and those increases may well be deserved, but they happen without any requirement that the State fund those increases. In order to make public education fiscally solvent, funding and pay increases are going to have to come in balance and it is going to take state action to make that happen. I'm not trying to engage in an argument here as to whether teachers are underpaid or overpaid. I'm trying to make a point about fiscal dysfunction: Minnesota has a system that forces up labor costs faster than the State provides revenues to fund those labor cost increases.

Whether you think that it should be brought in balance by draconian cuts in teacher pay, or whether you think that it should be brought in balance by increasing revenues to fund inflationary pay increases, the answer is the same. The current system is leading us down the road to ruin, and it is going to take a fundamental change in state policy to allow that to happen.

Now back to Anoka Hennipen. To produce the 7 million dollars in savings last year, Anoka Hennipen had to cut 73 licensed (mostly teacher) positions and 42 non-licensed positions. If the state "holds school districts harmless" by freezing the formula again and significantly increasing the special education shortfall--which is what politicians mean these days by holding K-12 harmless--then Anoka Hennipen is going to have to make significant cuts in teaching staff even if it doesn't increase staff pay by a dime. It would cost Anoka Hennipen another 36 teaching positions and 20 non licensed positions to avoid drawing on the fund balance another year.

But wait, is anyone seriously thinking that Anoka Hennipen is going to be able to get by by freezing teacher compensation completely next year? In order to do that, Anoka-Hennipen would have to freeze health insurance compensations, freeze base pay again, and also freeze completely steps and lanes. To be frank, Minnesota labor law makes that virtually impossible, even if Anoka Hennipen thought that was fair and wise. In order to make this possible (assuming it were fair and wise) the State would have to make significant changes in the balance of power between labor and management, something which even most republicans have not been advocating and is not found anywhere in the Horner or Dayton programs.

So what, then, does "holding K-12 harmless" mean in this context. It means continued evasion by all of the political parties and evidently all three of the candidates. It means more smoke and mirrors and more pretend. The solution won't be easy; in order to get K-12 on an even keel, and to prevent massive crippling cuts, its going to take a whole lot more honesty, a whole lot more courage, than any of the candidates have shown thus far.

Those of you who think the solution is for school boards simply to "live within your means" frankly just don't get it. In Minnesota, its against the law to live within your means. The State doesn't let you and political leaders won't step up to the plate and admit it. The whole problem is massively more complex than the politicians are letting on and its not going to get solves by a magic wand from politicians who are living in denial.