Minnesota Governor Proposes a 13% Cut for Education Programs
St Paul--Minnesota school officials and teachers' union leaders predicted drastic setbacks and layoffs approaching the 11-percent level if Governor Albert H. Quie's emergency proposals survive a special session of the Democratic-controlled legislature.
The special session--the third called this year--began Dec. 1 to act on the Republican governor's demand for a $777 million cut across the board from the current biennial state budget to avoid tax increases.
One of Governor Quie's major proposals was aimed at the state's $2-billion education budget, which he would like to pare by $271.8 million. Currently, the state's share of state-local funding in Minnesota's 434 school districts is about 75 percent, as compared with a national average of state-local funding to districts of slightly over 50 percent.
Because of existing contractual commitments, most of the impact of the proposed cut would not be felt until the 1982-83 fiscal year, with a 7-percent cut coming this school year and an 8 percent cut the following year.
William Wettergren, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, predicted "a rather severe financial setback to public schools." Richard Green, Minneapolis school superintendent, agreed, saying that if the legislature accepted the governor's proposal, the result would be heavy layoffs, more school closings than planned, and erosion of reserve funds held by some school districts.
Teachers' groups voiced strong opposition to the governor's proposals. Gene Mammenga, chief lobbyist for the Minnesota Education Association (mea), the major teachers' organization in Minnesota, said that the proposed cuts would mean layoffs of 5,000 of the state's 45,000 teachers. The mea president, Don Hill, who has been the loudest voice for higher state taxes to meet local educational needs, charged that the governor's proposals were an attack on public schools and the poor.
Such dire predictions from educators were tempered somewhat by a "go-slow" consensus among leaders of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, as Minnesota Democrats are officially called. But, although the legislature is expected to postpone major decisions until the regular session opens on Jan. 12, Minnesota lawmakers are nevertheless expected to approve some of the governor's stopgap measures so the state canpay its bills through January.
Among the measures designed to solve a serious cash-flow crisis is a request by the governor for authority to delay the state aid payments, due Dec. 31 and Jan. 30, to some school districts which are deemed financially secure and which can use reserve funds to meet expenses until aid can be restored.
Governor Quie's goal is to avoid increases in state taxes by engineering a 12-percent across-the-board reduction in state spending. "Local governments have been too dependent upon the state," he said.
But at the same time, he urged repeal of all state-imposed caps on local tax increases. If these limits are repealed, local governments--including school districts--would be able to impose freely any amount of property taxes they should desire. The governor's position was summed up when he told a group of local school officials, "Let the school districts make the decision where the cuts will come."