Guest Commentary: There are options for school districtI attended the Monday meeting to discuss the Lake Superior School District’s proposal to move from a five-day school week to a four-day week.
By: Mark Broin, Larsmont, Lake County News Chronicle
I attended the Monday meeting to discuss the Lake Superior School District’s proposal to move from a five-day school week to a four-day week. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to have been able to hear Superintendent Minkkinen present the school district’s position on this subject, anticipated to save the district about $250,000 a year. It was informative to hear the viewpoints of a number of parents, teachers and other residents who participated in the discussion. The comments seemed well thought out, respectful and expressed with appropriate concern.
Mr. Minkkinen presented anecdotal information regarding a small number of other school districts throughout the state who had adopted the four-day week. It appeared the long-term outcome of those programs was inconclusive.
When asked what other options the district had considered to save the targeted $250,000, and what other areas of school operations might be financially impacted, the superintendent surprisingly offered no information while insisting the district felt it had no choice but to move to the four-day week.
An analysis of the district’s consolidated financial statements, particularly when compared with total funding and spending averages of the entire state of Minnesota—and districts as diverse as Duluth, Edina, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester – suggest there may be numerous options for the district to find savings and keep a five-day school week.
A very important consideration, when making district budget adjustments, involves the employees of the district. Under the proposed plan, the “pain” of restructuring is not equally shared. While teaching staff would take no cuts under the four-day work week plan, lower paid administrative and other support staff are expected to shoulder as much as 20 percent or more in cuts to their compensation.
A 6-percent cut in teacher compensation, however achieved, would not put the district in any worse student/teacher ratios than state averages and would result in a savings to the district of at least $250,000.
Information was also presented and questions answered about the district’s proposed 10-year operating levy referendum. Apparently, in addition to the initially proposed levy options of $4.3 million and $6.1 million, a third option of $7.8 million is now on the table for voters. According to Mr. Minkkinen, the new, more expensive option, would guarantee the continuation of the five-day school week, as well as provide the operating funds the lower proposed levies are seeking.
Total district funding for the 2009 school year was $10,328 per student, on par with some of the best districts in the state. The district’s overall performance on standardized math and reading tests were only consistent with overall state averages.
The current annual 2010 expenditures to run the Lake Superior School District, serving around 1,400 students, will be around $22,413,645 without additional referendum money being approved by the district taxpayers. To gain a better perspective of the magnitude of this number, it is nearly $912,000 more than the entire 2010 budget of $21,501,712 for Lake County, which serves more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of visitors.
I believe these numbers make it absolutely clear school district voters must hold their district financially accountable, require them to communicate honestly about school issues in terms understandable to busy parents and voters, and demand they set appropriate program priorities.
This means making tough decisions about school operations that reflect the current economy, changing school demographics, and scarce resources. It will result in no longterm good for any of us to educate our children without realistically preparing them, by example, for a future where their every want cannot be seen as an entitlement.