Lack of funds may lead to school layoffs

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota schools may be forced to lay off thousands of employees next year unless the Legislature can bail them out from a $232 million money shortage, school officials said.
“It would be nothing short of devastating,” said Dale Jensen, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.
During the association’s 1996 conference Wednesday in Bloomington, state officials delivered an unpopular message: Things might get worse.
Jensen said superintendents are being told to do more with less money. But at the same time, he said, they are accused of running failing schools.
“Our members have been very demoralized,” Jensen said.
And many superintendents do not think Gov. Carlson will help out. They say his administration wants to criticize public schools with the hope of selling his voucher plan that allows tax money to pay for tuition at private schools.
Instead, school officials are turning to state lawmakers, who they hope will provide the $232 million for the 1998-99 biennium.
“We’re looking to the Legislature for some leadership, rather than some political bashing, which has been ongoing,” said Chris Huber, superintendent for Spring Lake Park schools. “The Legislature’s more realistic.”
The gap is caused by spending limits contained in current law: The per-pupil aid would decrease by $75, from $3,505 in 1997 to $3,430 in 1998 and 1999.
Because schools are a “people-driven industry,” Jensen said, the spending limits would equate to “mass layoffs … thousands of layoffs” throughout Minnesota.
State officials say it will become more and more difficult to help public schools financially as the state is forced to dole out more funds to health care and corrections.
“It may be difficult for education to hold on to its traditional one-third share of the overall state budget,” said Tom Melcher, manager of the finance division of the state Department of Children, Families and Learning.
The Carlson administration says superintendents and school boards could improve their financial condition by taking a harder line on contract negotiations with teachers.
Bruce Johnson, the department’s commissioner, said schools must consider their ability to pay for new contracts before they are approved.
“That does not seem to be one of the parameters in bargaining in the education world,” he said.