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GUEST COLUMN: Check our budgeting assumptions

On June 13, $1.2 million in budget reductions were presented to and approved by the Brainerd School Board. After the meeting, I was approached (as I often am) by a community member who posed a great question. She asked, “Why are the cuts coming from the bottom up? None of the cuts included any administration and it seems like we have a lot of administration.” While I appreciated the opportunity to provide an answer in person, I thought it was a great question and important to share this information with the broader community.

During the past two years, our district has received approximately $2 million from the 2009 ARRA (federal stimulus) funds. These funds came to our district with very specific parameters as to how and when they were to be spent. Following these guidelines, the school district used these funds as they were intended — to not only save but also to add teaching jobs that would directly impact our students' education during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. With these funds, we added approximately 23 certified teachers and 25 educational assistants. During this same time, there were no additions to administration across the district.  

With three years of flat funding from the state, however, we knew we could not sustain these added positions after the run out of the stimulus funds. Therefore, we spent a tremendous amount of time and effort reviewing, assessing, and prioritizing our district's overall staffing needs. It was our goal to determine which staff positions would best serve the long-term educational needs of our students. This process is evident in a review of the 2011 budget, which shows how the $1.2 million in reductions preserved as many teachers as possible. 

Since I started as the district's director of business services in March 2009, I have spent countless hours reviewing many, many things and the district's number of administrators was at the top of my list. Here's what I have found. The district's administration was cut by approximately 20 percent during the 2007 reductions. We currently have 21 licensed administrators in the district. It is important to keep in mind that we operate 12 sites that contain multiple programs. We have approximately one administrator for every 325 students. Districts of similar size — such as Mankato, Forest Lake, Roseville, and Bemidji — have an average of one administrator for every 304 students. To provide administration at the average level of our peers in Minnesota, we would need to add approximately two administrators.

In addition to our staffing level efficiency, we also have cost efficiency. Our average certified administrators' salary is 10 percent less than the average of these similar-size districts. To staff and pay administrators at the average level of our peers in Minnesota, we would need to spend nearly $470,000 more per year.  

Effectiveness is a critical part of being truly efficient. While we are able to demonstrate that our costs remain lower in comparison, what we are truly proud of are our academic results as measured by the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.  Brainerd Public Schools results are up to 7 percent higher than the State average and at or above the same similar sized districts above. 

The Minnesota Department of Education website contains a wealth of information for the academic and financial performance and measurements for all of Minnesota's school districts. As Superintendent Steve Razidlo mentioned in our last guest column, this information enables us to verify and validate our own budgeting assumptions and conclusions. You can access the same information and find out that we are running a fiscally efficient operation.

Please feel free to contact us anytime, we are always available to answer your questions and listen to your constructive comments.

STEVE LUND is director of business services for the Brainerd School District.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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