Editorial: Offer solutions, not pabulum on schoolsThere have been many accusations made about who is responsible for the current budget crisis hitting the Lake Superior School District.
There have been many accusations made about who is responsible for the current budget crisis hitting the Lake Superior School District.
One of the most troubling mirrors the national debate. It’s the call to throw the current bums out who are wasting our tax dollars. It’s a call to get “government” out of our lives and let free enterprise take over. Or at least that’s what we assume. There are little details on what should happen after we overhaul those who are supposed to be voting in the taxpayer’s interest.
And so it is with the school funding debate. We hear about mismanagement of district funds. About how the excess levy isn’t needed, or a four-day school week, if school board members and administration would just stop throwing money out the window.
So what are the ideas after that?
Painting with a broad anti-government brush isn’t effective. We need to look at local facts and local realities.
We’ve looked, and can’t for the life of us figure out where this budget malfeasance is happening. The school district is stuck with a mostly fixed set of what it can spend on and yet some argue that it spends discretionally.
And where that money comes from can be enlightening as well. For all the hand wringing over increasing property taxes, know that less than 4 percent of those taxes make up the funding source for the district. More than 80 percent of school funding comes from state (77 percent) and federal sources. And anyone who has followed the recent history of the state squeezing down on that allotment should know why most schools in the state are hurting, not just the ones in Lake County.
As far as the use of funds, some have called for the end of any programs outside of classroom teaching. Get rid of sports and fine arts. But those budgets are paltry compared to the fixed cost of staff, administration, and facilities upkeep. That accounts for more than 92 percent of the costs for the schools. Yes, some of that means pay for coaches or upkeep of the auditorium or gymnasium.
Are we to assume our teachers are grossly overpaid and that the cost to re-wax the gym floor is breaking the bank?
Our schools, counties and cities are in trouble because of a policy push toward no increase in state taxes. Local entities have been left to raise their own money through higher property taxes. That works where a growing tax base can cover it. It doesn’t in places like Lake County.
As state officials, namely the current governor, crow about not raising taxes, we all know the reality in our mailboxes. It’s why we found ourselves in a vote this month to raise property taxes to help the schools get by.
Yes, if this is the course of the future, there needs to be some serious talk about the structure of our schools and what district residents will be willing to pay for. This discussion will have to happen in every district where populations aren’t increasing.
The hallmark of Minnesota education used to be that we shared through state taxes the burden of making sure all of our students had a chance at a good education. Now, it’s a matter of haves and have-nots.
Lake Superior and most other rural school districts are on their own. Their meager local tax bases will lead to a significant change in what these schools look like in the future.
Blaming local leaders who work under rules that have suddenly changed isn’t the way to assure a good education for our students. Save that energy for the tough work ahead in going it mostly alone.