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Morris Area Superintendent's Report

School finance in Minnesota is complicated and not easy to understand. Two of the most useful planning tools available for schools to utilize during budgeting are 31 pages long (Levy Limitation and Certification), and six pages long with 295 different lines involved with various calculations (General Education Interactive Projection Model).

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to write a series of articles and present information specific to school finances for Morris and relevant to public schools in Minnesota. I will share information about education funding in Minnesota and how recent developments in St. Paul could affect Morris Area, the current state of Minnesota's budget, the district's overall financial condition, and some unique factors that contribute to potentially challenging budgeting in the next few years.

As most people are aware, there is a significant shift in political "power" at the Minnesota Capital. While I do not claim to be a political expert, here is what I have been able to surmise from what has happened in St. Paul. Governor Mark Dayton is the first Democrat to hold the Governor's position in 20 years. In addition, the majority of members in both the House and Senate are Republican, which has not happened for 38 years. The Governor has the power to veto bills that are sent to him after passing in both the House and Senate--Governor Pawlenty used the "veto pen" several times while he was in office. However, with the majority that the Republicans have in both the House and Senate, the possibility of overriding a Governor's veto is likely to happen. In the end, the Republican majorities may get what they want regardless of the Governor's wishes.

The Legislative Session is just beginning, and we have several months to wait to see how the Legislature and the Governor are able to work collaboratively to deal with the State's $6.2 billion deficit for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budget biennium. Governor Dayton will likely be trying to balance the State's Budget Deficit by proposing to increase taxes and reduce spending; Republicans have indicated they are not willing to support tax increases and that budget balancing will likely result from downsizing, increased efficiency, and/or decreased funding.

The significance of the imbalance of power in St. Paul--with a Democratic Governor and Republicans holding majority control in both the House and Senate--is that reaching consensus on how to solve or fix the budget deficit will be challenging. Governor Dayton indicated that education (along with health and human services) should be one of the last areas to face reductions and Republicans have "at times" echoed the Governor's thoughts. However, as the graph shows, education and health and human services make up the two largest portions of the state's spending. Consequently, avoiding funding reductions during this session may be - in all likelihood--even more difficult than in previous years.

It is my understanding that Governor Dayton will need to have a balanced budget proposal prepared no later than Feb. 15--after that, I anticipate Republican majorities will present their response and complete proposal (portions have already been proposed), and the discussions will begin in earnest at that time. Politics certainly appears as though it will play an even larger role in education funding during this Legislative Session than any of the previous ones.

In the next article, I would like to share more detailed information about the financial status of the Morris Area School District.