The other day someone in our community asked me, “With state aid payments being returned to schools, do you still need a levy?”
My answer was, “Yes,” and I’d like to take this opportunity to share why.
The state’s positive budget forecast for the current biennium will allow for significant payback to the school payment shift, but it does not equate to new money for our schools.
When considering the payback of the payment shift, it’s helpful to think of this in terms of your own household budget.
Based on your annual income, you are able to predict what kind of house you can afford and you can pay your monthly mortgage payment from the proceeds of your monthly paychecks. But if your boss decides to hold your paychecks to the end of the year you likely will need to borrow some money to make the monthly mortgage payments until you receive the money you have coming to you.
This is similar to how it works with schools when the state withholds its payments to us. This is money we know we will have, but we have had to wait to receive it. Now, because of the state’s budget forecast, we’ll have that money paid back to us a bit sooner than expected – which results in less borrowing.
It does not mean, however, that we’ll have any more money at the end of the year. The reality is, as our current operating expires in 2014 we will be facing a loss of $11 million. This is after cutting more than $6 million from our budget last year. On top of that, we’re still faced with the fact that the state will most likely face a more than $1 billion deficit in the next biennium.
On a somewhat related note we have also been hearing much at the national level about the fiscal cliff, or sequestration, approaching at the end of the calendar year. What you may not know is that embedded in this federal budget discussion is money for our schools that is used to provide support for our most at-risk students. In Stillwater Area Public Schools we are at risk of losing more than $320,000 if the elected leaders do not find a solution to this problem.
As a school system leader, I can assure you that education cuts do not heal, and that the impact of inappropriate funding for education would be severe and far-reaching. The budget challenges we face at the local, state and federal level threaten to undermine the success of our schools in preparing students to be ready for college or careers.
In a fiscal climate with a seemingly laser-focus on ‘cut, cut, cut’, it is more important than ever that our local and national leaders recognize the important role of education in not only educating students, but in preparing a high-quality workforce for post-secondary opportunity.
In Stillwater Area Public Schools we understand the critical role education plays to long-term economic health. Our community strives to do more with an ever-smaller set of resources, and our hard work and success should not be jeopardized because politicians are incapable of assembling a responsible, balanced and bipartisan approach to avoid the fiscal cliff.
Now is the time for action, now is the time for courageous leadership. Please join our school district in urging our state and federal elected leaders to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to intervene to find a long-term solution for appropriately funding our public schools.
Corey Lunn is superintendent of the Stillwater Area School District.
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