Some schools facing deficits

ST. PAUL (AP) — Some Minnesota school districts face budget deficits despite the biggest single spending increase in last year’s bipartisan two-year $540 million budget deal in education funding.

At least 28 school districts in the Twin Cities area say they’ll likely have to cut staff and services if the Legislature doesn’t give public schools some of the state’s projected $1.3 billion surplus.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said state funding continues to lag behind the rising cost of educating students with a growing number of special needs.

Minnesota districts face a $1 billion-a-year gap in the programs they are mandated to provide — and the state and federal funding to pay for it.

Until that is addressed, “We will be back here every year,” said Croonquist, who surveys his 41-member districts each year about their finances.

Per-pupil education spending at $12,647 is slightly higher than the national average of $12,201, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average teacher salary is $57,782, ranking Minnesota 20th in the country, slightly less than the $60,477 average.

This year, Minnesota will spend close to $10 billion to educate nearly 900,000 students.

School-spending watchdogs say districts need to live within their means. They argue that districts are too generous with union contracts and benefits for staff that make up about 80% of operating costs.

“We have other priorities right now,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who chairs the tax committee in the GOP-led Senate.