Saturday, May 21, 2011

St. Cloud Legislators and Community Leaders: Time to Stand up For St. Cloud Public Schools at the Legislature

A few years back, as a member of the school board,. I made a trip down to the legislature to show my support for the Mayor and city leadership's efforts to get legislative support for a civic center.   Its something you do when you are a community representative: fight for legislative recognition for your own community.   Because, if the leadership of your own community doesn't stand up for your own community at the legislature, who the heck will.

But the truth of the matter is, if the legislature funded twenty civic centers in St. Cloud, or their equivalent, it would not undo the damage that is about to be done to St. Cloud public education by the House and Senate education bills this year.   The financial damage is significant in this first budget year, but in the years following, the approach the legislature is proposing to take is catastrophic.

When the new majority came to St. Paul, it is clear they came to St. Paul with a mission to hold non-urban districts harmless from cuts by taking money away from urban districts, and they are doing that with a vengeance.  Some of these legislators come from rural or semi-rural districts with people who believe that the DFL used its urban voting strength to unfairly fund rural and semi-rural districts, and outer ring suburban districts.  There was more than a tinge of partisanship in this:  time to get even with the blue cities and move some money back into the red districts where it belongs.  But instead of holding districts harmless, the Republican majority is providing increases to some, and slashing funding for others. 

The primary target of these efforts was Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth, which historically have had significant special funding that prefers them over all other cities in the state.   But in the heat of the moment, the new Republican majority in St. Paul has swept cities like Mankato, St. Cloud, and Anoka into the metro category, and is trying to blast those districts with huge cuts as well.    The Republicans came to majority in St. Paul promising to hold education harmless, but they are only holding red school districts harmless, and they are doing at the expense of the districts they count as blue.

Now the leadership of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth have fought back.  The Mayors have recognized that public education funding is critical to the survival of their communities. See Link.   In a letter to the legislative leadership, the Mayor of Minneapolis launched a campaign to protest against the legislative war on the three big cities.  He wrote:


Public education. Similarly, bills for funding K-12 public education in both the House and Senate disproportionately target Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth schools for cuts — so much so that once the cuts for the three cities’ districts are subtracted from the total, the rest of Minnesota public school districts take no cuts at all, or actually receive increases in funding.
  • The Senate cuts K-12 education funding by $30 million — all of which comes from Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth.
  • The House of Representatives cuts K-12 education funding by $14 million overall — but cuts $57 million from Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth, leaving an increase of $43 million for schools everywhere else.
As the mayors of Minnesota’s three largest cities, we have regularly expressed our view that the young people of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth are the key to our region’s future economic competitiveness. Disproportionately targeting cuts to our core cities will hinder our ability to educate and train a workforce that will enable Minnesota’s businesses to create jobs and compete effectively in the global economy.
So far, the leadership of St. Cloud have remained strangely quiet as the legislature proposes to crush St. Cloud education financially.  One is inclined to cry out to our legislators:  hey you guys, you don't get it.  We're not a blue district we're red.  St. Cloud has a nine million special education deficit.   What the republican leadership is proposing to do is to take more money from St. Cloud, to fund districts and charters with very small, or no special education deficit at all.So, I'm writing to say to anyone who will listen:  time to prove that your vote counts at the legislature.  Stand up for St. Cloud public education. 

This is not the first time that St. Cloud has been under legislative attack with respect to funding.  In 2001, the legislature adopted a new funding formula that took away nearly 5 million dollars from St. Cloud, money that the district had raised by operating referendum, money that was needed to cover our special education deficit, and that action through the District into a downard financial spiral that wiped out its fund balance completely, and took four years to recover from.   At the time, our local legislative delegation was unwilling, or unable, to protect St. Cloud from these devastating cuts.  

This is a time for our legislative representatives, Baniaan, Gotwald, and Peterson, to think long and hard about who they represent-- the republican leadership, or the children of St. Cloud.    Some of these representatives have, I know, worked really hard to help us be heard.  And, who am I to tell these hard working legislators how to do their job?   But I will say this:  as a legislator, once the legislative leadership learns that you are willing to vote against the interests of your own community, you get put on the list of legislators who will not fight for their own district.   By voting  for the current anti-St. Cloud school funding legislation, the legislators will be sending a message to the leadership:  never mind about St. Cloud.  Their legislators will lobby for St. Cloud, but when the chips are down, they can be rolled.

St. Cloud needs an emergency effort on behalf of public education.   We are being challenged at the legislature by a republican majority that has decided they can move money out of the St. Cloud school district budget to hold other school districts without consequence.   They haven't heard from the City Council; they haven't heard from the Mayor; they haven't heard from communities of faith; they haven't even heard, in a way that counts (by their votes) from our own legislators.

I want to close by saying that I understand that state government faces a funding crisis.   So it makes sense that the education budget would be very tight this year.   The issue here is that the republican majority has decided, despite this great funding crisis, that they can provide increases to many districts, most of which are red districts, and to fund that with huge transfers out of urban districts with high rates of poverty.    All I'm asking is that St. Cloud's legislators and community leaders stand up and be counted:   St. Cloud school funding should not be the cash register that funds other school districts to provide them with funding increases at our expense.   

2 comments:

  1. I wrote to our area Representatives and here is my message which follows King Banaian's reply:

    Mr Jeddeloh, thank you for writing to me about education finance. The bill that came back from the conference committee added extra money per student versus what we sent to the conference committee. We have continued to work to get this in line. District 742 will receive $116 per student more in fiscal year 2012 than 2011, and essentially that same amount in FY 2013. These numbers were more than $50 less in the bill we sent off the floor; I argued over these figures with the K-12 education finance chair and this was what we were able to obtain. Contrary to your letter, I have stood up for our own school district.

    There was a long discussion over K-12 policy changes and what we are doing will make our education spending better focused on outcomes. This is a bill former Florida governor Jeb Bush has called a once-in-a-generation education reform bill, and the result will be great for the children of St. Cloud. Thanks!

    King


    Rep. King Banaian
    House District 15B, serving St. Cloud and Haven Township
    State Office Building Rm 411
    100 The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd
    St. Paul, MN 55155
    (v) 651-296-6612
    rep.king.banaian@house.mn
    http://www.house.mn/15b


    >>> 5/23/2011 5:00 PM >>>
    I am very concerned that you are backing cuts to St. Cloud Public Schools. They are still reeling from cuts in the past and now it appears you are looking at shifting money from St Cloud to schools outside the district. This makes no sense. I thought you had run on not cutting schools yet the budget bills show cuts not only to the Twin Cities and Duluth but to us as well. Please stand up for St Cloud and not the party line. Once they know you will only lobby and not stand up for your constituents, your role becomes largely superficial. Our schools are our future: fail our students and fail our country. Please look beyond today and secure the future of our nation.

    Paul Jeddeloh
    803 W. St. Germain St.
    St Cloud MN, 56301

    rep.king.banaian@house.mn

    ReplyDelete
  2. House and Senate prepare "runs" which compare our funding to the base year. They show our cuts at $70 per student.

    ReplyDelete

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