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8 Year Olds Shouldn’t Have to Worry About Levies

December 13, 2010 By BJ Berg, Guest Commentary

Minnesota 2020 invited educators to submit guest commentary in an effort to highlight issues and challenges they face as we head into a new legislative session. Today we hear from principal BJ Berg at South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton

What exactly does underfunding look like in my school/district, for students, teachers and parents?

Appropriate funding or lack of appropriate funding really dictates our ability to provide services to the families of our school or district that they have come to expect and demand in today’s society. The need for more money has been the single most discussed topic in our school district over the past few years. On November 2nd, we were able to pass an operating levy referendum of $1,100 PPU which will be in place for the next seven years (past levy amount was $500 PPU).

At least 90% of districts in the state have an operating levy just to make ends meet. Even with the increase to our operating levy we will still be faced with making further reductions in the near future. Our student population over the past ten years has declined which has resulted in less funding, reductions of budgets, reduction of staff and an elimination of programs and services to our students.

For students they have personally experienced a reduction of bus routes, having more crowded buses and longer bus rides on an aging bus fleet. Class sizes have steadily increased which means less one-on-one time with staff. Students have been using outdated textbooks. Our students have been using recycled computers (which we were able to acquire from a penitentiary) because we can’t afford to purchase new equipment for our labs or classrooms.

Due to cutbacks, students no longer have the opportunity to work with a computer specialist. Some students are still using desks that were purchased in the 60’s when the school was built. In recent years they have lost the opportunity to meet with a school counselor or social service provider within the school. They face the loss of or reduction to extra-curricular opportunities as they get ready to transition to the high school.

For teachers/staff, health insurance costs continue to rise while being faced with salaries that are not keeping pace. The school district can’t afford to offset these increases due to lack of funds. Reduced supply budgets have resulted in teachers having to pay more out of pocket to supply classrooms with necessary supplies.

Teachers have been working with outdated curriculum materials, having to create supplemental materials to address the state standards in our everyday instruction. Reduction in overall staff has resulted in fewer staff doing more with less. The reduction in technology supportive services means that teachers are responsible to teach technology individually to the students. We don’t have the money to purchase phones for the individual classrooms so staff have difficulty in finding a “community” phone within the building to talk with parents when needed. Teachers are only able to attend free or reduced cost professional development activities or opportunities.

Parent feedback has become our “yard stick” in measuring the success of the services we provide our student. Over the past six years we have heard growing concerns and frustrations with funding. Parents need to fundraise with their child to pay for all school related field trips (entrance fees and transportation). Families have experienced increased fees for lunches/breakfasts, gate costs for sporting events, extra-curricular fees for participation, etc.

Parents and community members have just recently voted to increase the taxes they will pay to support operational costs within the district by a significant amount. With the reduction of bus routes and the fact that students now have longer bus rides, some parents have elected to transport their child(ren) to school. With the potential elimination or reduction of extra-curricular activities at the high school level, parents are concerned that their elementary child will not have the experiences or opportunities that will give them a “leg up” as they get to the high school and begin applying to colleges.

Parents begin to recognize a reduction in opportunities for their children down the road and begin to “shop around” to other schools/districts that still have these programs or offerings. Many have chosen to send their child elsewhere. This means a loss of revenue for our schools/district…a continued vicious cycle.

With our recent levy referendum vote taking place…the possibility of dissolving our school district in the near future was something that weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of parents, staff and students.

A second grade student and I were enjoying some pleasant conversation during the morning of election day. She then changed the subject by asking, “Mr. Berg, today they are voting on Carlton Schools, right?” I replied, “Yes, among other things”. She then asked, “If there isn’t enough money for our school, will it close?”…”and if it closes, where will I go to school?” I could only reply be saying, “Hopefully we won’t have to worry about that, dear.” She then stated, “Mr. Berg, I don’t want to go anywhere else, I love it here.”

This is something that an eight year old should not have to worry about!

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