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District prepares for legislative battles

District 196 school board member Kevin Sampers heard from long-time lobbyists that the recently finished legislative session was among the strangest they've seen regarding education funding and policies.

Sampers warned the District 196 school board and community on Monday that the political battles over school funding are only going to get more interesting.

"We are entering the period of what I would call, 'the politics of spin,'" Sampers said. "What you're going to see is, when we have a governor that is being touted as a possible presidential candidate and probably about half of the legislators running for governor, everybody is going to be out trying to spin what really happened at the session."

Sampers gave a legislative update at Monday's board meeting, and stressed that the bottom line for District 196 will be sifting through the rhetoric to find out how the district and school board will be impacted.

Meanwhile, with the session over, Sampers didn't have many hard facts to present.

"It really came down to a game of chicken between Governor Pawlenty and the legislature, and in the end, we all know what happened," Sampers said. "The governor's going to take and use his line item veto and unallotment to balance the budget, and most likely we'll see some shift in our budget.

"We don't have all the details of what that's going to look like just yet, but the genral consensus is that our funding will be fairly flat for the next two years."

Later in Monday's meeting, district finance director Jeff Solomon was able to present expected numbers while outlining the 2009-10 preliminary budget.

And the outlook doesn't look promising.

The preliminary budget -- which will be up for approval at the June 22 board meeting -- details $284 million in revenue in the general fund and $291 million in expenditures.

The difference will be accounted for by a reduction in the fund balance. The board had already approved a fund balance reduction this spring as part of an extended five-year plan.

Solomon said funding from the state will decrease, but he expects it to be supplemented by a $2.8 million increase in revenue from a federal stimulus plan.

"They started the session with a $4.7 billion deficit and that really set the stage for the session and turned it into a politcal standoff between the governor and the legislature over whether we were going to find ways to increase revenue and not have to cut so much."

Sampers warned that the district will lose a one-time addition to the general fund which accounted for $51 per pupil. However, the Minnesota School Board Association sought and was awarded a school trust fund which will take effect and equal to $35 per pupil.

While the state funding is expected to remain steady, Sampers warned expenditures won't stay the same way.

"I think it's important for people to realize, even if it was zero and zero, our costs aren't stuck at zero and zero," Sampers said. "Year to year our costs go up, regardless of the legislature giving us more money."