FFM Bulletin 9/17/08

Brooklyn Center voters send same message to public schools... 6 times

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try again. That seems to be the mantra of the Brooklyn Center public schools (ISD 286), whose sixth referendum since 2005 was defeated last Tuesday. Voters shot down the district's request for an additional $200 per student in general education revenue, with 58% of voters opposing the tax increase. Since 2005, voters have also rejected revenue increases of $595 (three times) and approximately $300 per student (twice).

The Brooklyn Center school district is in Statutory Operating Debt (SOD), which means their debt exceeds the maximum allowable under state law. A school district is in SOD when their operating debt exceeds 2.5% of the most recent year's general fund operating expenditures. In fiscal year 2007, Brooklyn Center exceeded that requirement many times over. Their FY 2007 operating debt of $2.1 million was 14.62% of their general fund expenditures of $14.4 million. Only two public school districts in the entire state had more debt as a percentage of expenditures last year. And this situation is nothing new to the Brooklyn Center public schools. They entered statutory operating debt in 2002 and continue to be there today.

The district claims they simply do not have enough revenue, despite the fact that their revenue per pupil is actually slightly higher than the statewide average. Superintendent Keith Lester says the district will need to make deep budget cuts, and plans to petition the Legislature for financial help.

In the meantime, Brooklyn Center has found at least one novel way to save money: canceling school. In April of this year, the district announced they were canceling the final three days of the school year to avoid overtime costs.

Anoka County employees to receive 4.5% pay increase despite objections

Anoka County Commissioner Dennis Berg knows his residents have been hit by a struggling economy and acknowledges that his county is in a "budget mess", but that didn't stop him and the majority of the county board from approving a 2009 tax levy and operating budget that creates an even greater economic burden for Anoka County taxpayers.

Commissioners voted last week to approve a certified tax levy of $117.5 million for 2009, a 5.99% increase over 2007, and an operating budget of nearly $270 million, 6.2% higher than 2008. Included in the operating budget is a 4.5% pay raise for county employees.

Two commissioners, Robyn West and Rhonda Sivarajah, were the only ones to question the wisdom of significant increases in taxes, spending, and public employee salaries at a time when many residents have stagnant income and falling home values.

Commissioner West proposed to give non-union county employees a more modest 3% pay raise - thereby saving the county $3.7 million. She praised the hard work of the county's employees, but said it was difficult to justify such a significant pay increase when few in the private sector will be getting similar raises. While Commissioner West's proposal would seem like a reasonable measure during difficult economic times, most on the Anoka County board did not see it that way. In fact, one outraged commissioner said the proposal to scale back county raises was "ludicrous" and a "political shell game." The measure was voted down by a 5-2 margin, as was Commissioner Sivarajah's proposal to reduce the pay raise by one percent, a move that would have reduced the levy increase from 5.99% to 3.28%.

While the majority on the Anoka County Board may continue to tax and spend their way through a tough economic stretch, it's nice to know there are at least a couple voices of reason standing up for taxpayers.

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