Bleak Financial Situation or Golden Opportunity?

The Sun Post reported this week that “District 281 faces (‘bleak’ in print, or ‘dire’ online) financial situation.” Despite passing a referendum in 2008 and closing three schools, our district like others around the state are looking at serious budget cuts. 281 has to cut $5.7 million. The state may be dipping into districts with funds and Robbinsdale might be one source to borrow about $2.4 million. Remember, borrowing means it will be paid back eventually.

Dr. Sicoli advised the school board to “begin thinking about areas in which they are willing to make budget reductions.”

Turn to the editorial section in the Sun-Post and you’ll find an editor there making valid points on reform. Paul Wahl wrote,

The reason we need reform is because we’ve reached the end of what can be cut. It’s no longer a matter of doing more with less, it’s doing less with less.

…Reform might mean eliminating a department that isn’t state or federally mandated.

Think of the freedoms and money districts would have by chopping those unfunded mandated programs!

For schools, reform often centers around choice – charter schools, open enrollment and similar plans. Those many have started their lives as reform, but it’s hard to argue too strenuously either represents reform in light of today’s education challenges.

We’ll buy the argument with open enrollment, as we’ve seen the issues with security and mobility expenses “The Choice is Yours” program added to the budget – despite getting money ($12,000) for each student who enrolled. However, a charter school would attract district students back and neighboring students. And, a charter school decision is our choice – we set the rules, unlike CIY which was a forced government ruling from a lawsuit.

But what comes after the last budget cut finally severs the bone? When and how are we going to make the tough decisions that shape what schools and cities will look like 10 years from now? When do we start the conversation?

The divestiture committee met this week, and we’ll post updates. For us, selling unused properties is a glaring golden opportunity to get funds in. Allow a charter school here and bring back fleeing students going to other districts. Be brave, district leadership! Think outside of the box, beyond 2010, and government and union strong-arming which has drained too many district, city and state coffers. The choice is yours.

Check out Give2Attain’s article with links to the spreadsheet and comments:

Budget Reduction Announcement
Budget Adjustment Worksheet

Some things to remember when looking at the linked worksheet:

  • $1 million = ~83 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (09/10)
  • $3.6 million = ~300 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (10/11)
  • The 10/11 student reduction is an estimate which could easily vary higher or lower. (ie guesstimate)
  • This is why schools are interested in enticing the students back to the district, or pulling open enrollees into the district.
  • This is variation across ~12,000 students, so though the numbers are big, the percent variation is fairly small. (300 kids = 2.5%)
  • $5.7 million gap = $5.9 million fund bal goal – $ .2 million forecast
  • As DJ pointed out: apparently ~$3 million of the gap created when the latest contract was signed. (G2A S and L) Now is this labor or mgmts fault… Either way, all of us will pay in the coming years.
  • This is operating dollars, not capital… Selling facilities will not raise funds that can directly offset this. Though, it would result in reduced maintenance, heating, etc expenses.
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5 Responses to “Bleak Financial Situation or Golden Opportunity?”

  1. 281careless Says:

    I think a Magnet is a better approach than Charter.

  2. give2attain Says:

    281careless,
    What do you see as the advantages of Magnets or the disadvantages of Charters? Just curious…

    To me they are similar, however since the Charter is an entity outside the Public School system. It generates competition and promotes the Public School to perform with Excellence. (ie no resting on their laurels) Kind of like in business.

    Thanks John

  3. 281careless Says:

    Charter takes money from the system and puts it in the hands of those who have not shown they can follow guidelines. It takes money from the district, which means it funnels money from programs I want my chidlren to enjoy (orchestra, band, sports, computers, chess club, lego club, DI). These are areas that will be cut. These are things that could be supported with the money the charters take from the district. Are charter schools a good use of taxpayers money? I don’t think so.

  4. give2attain Says:

    On one hand, I agree with you. If the Public School is unable to satisfy their families or adapt to the competition, the Charter will take students and funding. (just like in business)

    However, why are district parents leaving the Public schools if the Public schools are offering what the parents and students want? This action is freely taken and often means taking on the burden of driving the kids to and from school each day. It seems like a David vs Goliath story, where the 12,000 student Goliath should be able to crush the ~400 student Charter. Thoughts?

    Just a note: 400@$9,000=$3.6mil vs 12,000@$12,000=$144mil

    From what I understand the charters only receive the state funding, which means they actually operate on a lower cost per student. However, they should be able to since they often have less transportation cost, fewer free and reduced lunch kids, and fewer special education students.

    By the way, what did you mean by “have not shown they can follow any guidelines”? Any specific examples in mind?

    Thanks for your thoughts !!!

  5. give2attain Says:

    By the way, please remember that I am one of the biggest fans of RAS. Though I am pro-competition and openly encourage it, I have personally never even thought of moving to a charter, open enrolling or moving to a private. So my questions are sincere.

    My family and I have had a great experience in the Robbinsdale Area Schools. The programs, people, facilities, etc are great !!!

    Also, I am not against magnets. RSIS is a great program. I am just concerned that when Administrator’s start focusing on Magnets as the way to improve their district and retain students, they take their focus away from the core curriculum and students. (ie the majority)

    It is a very complex and challenging problem.

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