Schools push for more state funding
Rochester superintendent says per-pupil amount is a 'political figure'
By Edie Grossfield
Rather than bicker among themselves over disparities in state funding between districts, southeastern Minnesota educators are focused on the bottom line: the state's basic formula for funding education.
The general revenue funding formula, in place since the 1970s, is criticized for being outdated, vague and inadequate for today's schools.
The base amount of $4,601 per pupil unit has stayed the same since 2002, even though the cost of operating schools continues to increase, said Mike Pieper, Rochester public schools' business services director.
Rochester schools Superintendent Jerry Williams called the base amount unfair.
"That $4,601 is a political figure. What is it based on?" he asked. "It's a number that's thrown out there. …; I think the next issue is to look at the unique needs that districts have."
For example, Williams said, Rochester has more facility and grounds upkeep than many other districts in the state and, therefore, needs more aid.
"Yes, we get more students, but we have to fund a large grounds crew, a large business office, a large human resources office, and we have a lot of different bus routes," he said.
Labor makes up the bulk of the district's operating costs, but the state hasn't kept up. Using U.S. Department of Labor information to calculate a cost-of-labor increase, Pieper estimated the Rochester district has lost $17.6 million in revenues since 2003. That loss is based on continued flat funding from the state. He estimated a loss of $8.8 million for the 2005-06 school year.
"The whole thing needs to be redone," Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona) said about the general revenue funding formula. "There's a definite flaw in it, which was exacerbated by (former governor) Jesse Ventura."
The formula should have been overhauled when the Legislature made the decision to take over education funding, Pelowski said.
At $5,489 per pupil unit, Lanesboro public schools gets the largest general revenue allotment in southeastern Minnesota. However, with just 409 pupil units, that funding amounts to just $2.2 million, compared to Kasson-Mantorville's 2,215 pupil units and $10.8 million in funding. Lanesboro receives significant compensatory and transportation aid, but also additional money to help with upkeep of aging school facilities and equipment.
Lanesboro schools Superintendent Rick Lamon said his district is doing OK with its current funding, although the district had to cut one and a half full-time teaching positions for the current school year. For rural districts such as Lanesboro, decreasing enrollment is the main funding issue, but the state's basic general revenue amount will need to change, he said.
"Our costs have risen; anybody can see that. Insurance costs are more, heating and salaries -- everything goes up. So, at some point, something has to be done," Lamon said.