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Viewpoint: Another school funding dilemma!

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This is my 41st year in public education. Yes, I am getting old, but that is not the point.

The point is educational funding is a constant merry-go-round that does not seem to change. We have a few good years when we are able to start new programs in technology or world languages, then the bottom falls out in our state budget and we are forced to cut back.

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Where is the consistency needed to fund our programs? This is the question the Legislature should be attempting to address.

What happens in Washington, D.C. affects what is happening in St. Paul. What happens in St. Paul affects schools and local governments throughout the state.

We are all interconnected and we depend on each other. Today we find ourselves in the deep throes of a financial disaster and we are all in it together.

Whether we like it or not, the South Washington County School District is also feeling the pain of the world's financial meltdown.

Our budget picture is much like any business or individual family.

We have sources of income and we have dedicated expenditures. We save a little during the good times and build up a fund balance so that when we are faced with some bumps in the road, we have some funding to get us through. We try not to borrow money for our daily operations.

In our business, 85 percent of our expenditures are related to compensation. We employ over 2300 people, full and part time, to educate our 16,600 students. We hire teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, school principals, office staff, custodians and the list goes on. When we are forced to cut back on our expenditures, this means fewer employees.

We have examined our revenue coming in and there does not appear much chance of improvement for the next two years.

We get our money from the state government (roughly 80 percent), local property taxes (almost 15 percent), and a small amount from the federal government (about three percent). The remaining two percent comes from various fees and gifts.

Both the state and federal government appear to be tapped out and even if we wanted to, a referendum is not an option at this time. So increasing revenues is not a possibility.

Thanks to our school board and our citizen's finance advisory committee we have policies in place that have pushed the district to save for a rainy day. We have a healthy fund balance that will help us to ride through this rough time, but we will also need to reduce our expenditures. We are projecting a $10 million deficit for the coming year. This needs to be reduced.

The school board has organized a budget adjustment task force to study our financial situation and bring back a list of potential budget adjustments in the next month.

All residents are encouraged to send in your ideas/opinions about areas to make reductions.

Information is available, as well as the opportunity to share your thoughts on our school district web page (www.sowashco.k12.mn.us) under Hot Topics - Budget Adjustment Process.

You can also send your ideas to Barb Brown at the District Service Center, 7362 E. Pt. Douglas Road S, Cottage Grove, MN 55016.

Nelson is School District 833 superintendent and can be reached at tnelson@sowashco.k12.mn.us.

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