Tom Nelson: The Days Of Financial Security Are Numbered In Stillwater Schools
After the 2011-2012 school year, the days of living off of a fund balance will be over for Stillwater schools, and will need to start cutting back on what can be offered to students, Superintendent Tom Nelson says. "This is our reality."
In a recent school-district wide survey, the question was asked: “Do you think the Stillwater Area Schools are adequately funded?” Sixty-five percent of those answering the survey said yes.
In the same survey, the question was asked: “Do you think the state legislature provides adequate funding to the Stillwater Area Schools?” On this question only 37 percent of those surveyed said yes, 48 percent answered no and 14 percent were not sure.
These are very interesting and somewhat contradictory results. What these results tell me is that I need to do a better job of explaining how school funding works in Minnesota.
In general, our public schools receive about 70 percent of our revenues from the State of Minnesota. We get another five percent from the federal government in the form of targeted grants and aides, and the other 25 percent comes from our local property taxes.
For the past five years the state funding we receive per student has remained relatively constant. The only increases school districts are receiving is primarily from increased local referendums. This occurs when the local district ask voters to approve a levy increase to fund the schools. Without an increase at the state level, where 70 percent of our funds come from, the referendum has become the only vehicle left to adequately fund our schools. While this is not an acceptable way to fund schools, in reality it is the only choice left.
The last referendum held in the Stillwater Area Public Schools was in 2007. Our residents approved the levy request and it has provided additional funding to our schools for the past four years. Without this funding, we would have been forced to significantly reduce our programs. The district used this money to continue to provide quality opportunities for our students. I believe that is why when asked if the Stillwater schools are adequately funded the answer was yes.
We have been living off this money for the past four years. We have had a positive fund balance and spent down a portion of this fund balance each year. After the 2011-2012 school year, the days of living off our fund balance will be over, and our district—like many other Minnesota school districts—will need to start cutting back on what can be offered to our students.
I know some will say, “This is a threat” and we don’t mean it. No, I will guarantee you that this is our reality.
This information has been shared with our school board as they plan for the future of the Stillwater Area Public Schools. The outlook for the near future is there will be no additional state funding, in fact a very small decline, and certainly no additional federal money.
The only place to even hold a financial discussion is with our own communities. I know this frustrates people, but this is the way schools have been funded for years. Local people decide on the quality of education they want for their young people.
In my short time here, I have come to know this community as one of the quality places to live in Minnesota. This is a community with longstanding, proud traditions and a well earned reputation as a leader in our state. In great communities you will always find great schools, because great communities invest in the education of their citizens. This is a great community and you have wonderful schools.
I am not sure what decisions the school board will make about asking the local taxpayers for additional dollars for our schools. This issue will be debated by the board over the next two months. This debate should be a positive, healthy one for the community. In America, we get the opportunity to discuss, debate and vote on our future. This community discussion will be about the value we place on our public schools. Remember, great communities and great schools go hand in hand.