Budget Reserve

Dear Political Diary,

Man o man. I just spent two hours typing this up and my computer crashed without my having saved the document. 1500 words into the ethers! I'm bummed. 

Lets try it again but shorter and sweeter this time....This morning the News Tribune took the state to task for failing to set up a ten percent budget reserve. Why, that's just the size of the Duluth School District's reserve I'm proud to say.

I used to look on our reserve as a "rainy day" fund which is what the state's reserve is often called. I thought of it as something we would use for emergencies like fixing a burned school or preventing layoffs. I was wrong. Those sorts of emergencies come along all the time. Our ten percent reserve is barely a month's worth of operating expenses. Its existence protects us from borrowing money and racking up costly interest charges. Before the reserve we were paying up to a million dollars a year on borrowed money. Now we earn a million dollars in interest every year, half of it due to the ten percent reserve. That's sound money management.

In the bad old days, when Brad Bennett was on the Board, we were like a family forced to buy groceries from the seven eleven rather than a supermarket, while pawning family treasures and taking out short term loans, all the while hiding from their creditors. It was the reserve that saved the school district from this condition. Its too bad that the state is not so well provided for.

In fact, the state poses a threat to our reserve. Twenty years ago at the start of another recession the state was desperate for cash. It looked around and saw reserves in the accounts of its school districts and simply borrowed them all to meet its own needs. The state looked at it as a simple accounting remedy to get a months respite from its own woes. However, this "rescission" caused school districts fifteen years worth of cash flow problems and forced most of them into short term borrowing. The state finally reimbursed the districts a few years ago.

Having learned one lesson the state is now trying to figure out how to escape its most recent improvidence. School districts have been reassured that they will be held harmless. Of course, K-12 education now accounts for forty percent of the state's budget.  I can't help but wonder how badly other functions of the state will be hurt. I'll believe we're safe when I see it.

I had lunch with Aaron Bransky at the India Palace. We commiserated about the lost referendum and I suggested we needed to start making plans to offer another levy next year. I showed him the Twin Ports People essay I'd written with its suggestion that the voters had directed the Board to close a high school. The reputation of the school board will have to be restored by making the "tough decisions" we've been accused of avoiding.  This will also require challenging naysayers like Brad Bennett and exposing them when their accusations prove groundless.

I took the column to the CAB to have it copied and sent out to my Board colleagues. While there I got a gentle reminder from Joanne, the Business Office secretary, that Mary Cameron's finance report was due today. I whined that I'd rather make a snow sculpture than fill it out but Joanne would have none of it. She threatened to tattle to the Secretary of State if I didn't do my duty. Gosh, I like our secretaries. I make them work so hard to keep me out of trouble.

The report was a simple one since it only covered the most recent month during which we had received no more than a $150 dollars in contributions but spent half that amount. By two o'clock I was laboring on my homage to George Harrison. By the end of the afternoon I had completed my snow white, yellow submarine. Several passersby  knew exactly what it was always a good sign that I've succeeded.

I was late turning on FIGHT line but in time to hear Brad complain that he couldn't believe Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, might be allowed to go free. He wondered incredulously what other defeated leader had ever been let off the hook by the United States. In a minute I was on the line with him to suggest Emperor Hirohito. That was different, Brad sputtered, we dropped two bombs on him. I might have mentioned Robert E Lee too but Brad didn't seem interested in pursuing it.

This time I took Brad to task because FIGHT's misleading information was starting to be repeated. I read the excerpt of Pat Roy's column which asked rhetorically why Duluth had so many more teachers than other districts and then read FIGHT's damned ad. Brad pooh poohed argument that we had more kids who qualified for Title One, Compensatory Ed, Special Ed and Desegregation money the funds for which pay for our additional teachers. Together the funds total about ten million dollars and that's a lot of teachers. Instead Brad complained that the compensatory ed money was being misspent and that the large class sizes at Laura MacArthur Elementary proved it. What this had to do with anything I wasn't sure but I thought to myself that we weren't spending  "comp ed" funds any differently than we had back when Brad was on the Board.

The Comp ed program is a state funded program supposedly intended to help out poor kids. The legislature was well aware when they set up the guidelines for the program, however, that special education mandates were never properly funded. So after creating compensatory ed for "poor kids" they designed the rules permitting it to be spent on special ed kids. The legislature simply made the correct assumption that there was a lot of overlap between poor kids and kids needing special educational services.

After I hung up my old supporter Roger Fischer called Brad and heaped abuse on me. While bashing me he praised my pal Mary Cameron and her recent election success. Go figure! Roger once wrote one of the best letters-to-the-editor supporting me that I've ever read. I'm sorry to say he's soured on me since I ran against his buddy Senator Doug Johnson. Roger threatened to go door to door to oppose me when I run for office next time no matter which "liberal stooge" Alan Netland (the local AFL-CIO President) puts up to run against me. I think that would be a good idea. Roger could barely get out of his chair when came to my last election night victory party. The exercise would do him good.