Smaller cuts still a problem for educatorsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Education officials admit Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cuts to their budgets could have been much worse, but they say the governor's steps will still bring negative consequences.
Pawlenty seemed to express relief on behalf of the state's colleges and universities when he said higher education funding will take a cut of $100 million in fiscal year 2011.
"I think it's fair to say our higher education systems were expecting larger amounts in this category," he said. "I know they didn't want any reduction, but I think the amount they will see here is less than they were expecting."
That $100 million cut will be shared equally by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
MnSCU spokeswoman Linda Kohl says the governor is correct that they were expecting a bigger hit.
"There was a hearing right at the end of the legislative session at which the governor's representatives were talking about an unallotment of $70 million. So this is less than that."
Kohl says the MnSCU board of trustees will discuss their future budget this week at a board meeting with that $50 million cut in mind.
The University of Minnesota was also expecting a cut from the governor of about $70 million. U of M Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter says a cut of only $50 million brings some relief.
"I suppose it's kind of like losing a couple of fingers instead of all of them," he said. "But it is still a cut."
Pfitzenreuter says the smaller cut will not change the recently announced plans by the U to cut $95 million and 1,200 positions over the next year because of decreases this year in state funding.
He says since the governor's new budget-cutting comes out of the fiscal year 2011 budget, the U of M will address the latest cuts next spring.
College students wonder if further cuts to higher education could result in higher tuition in coming years. Next year, because of federal stimulus money, in-state tuition at the U of M and MnSCU schools will go up 3 percent at most.
But Tyler Smith, president-elect of the Minnesota State College Student Association, says he's worried that funding cuts now will mean trouble two or three years down the road.
"We're still worried about the quality that can be cut in higher education, and future tuition increases that can come as a result of cutting the budget of MnSCU," he said.
While K-12 schools didn't take an outright cut in the governor's budget fix, the move by the governor to delay state funding will. The governor will delay $1.7 billion, an accounting move that pushes some funding into the next fiscal year to help balance the state's budget.
For Sauk Rapids-Rice Superintendent Greg Vandal, that means he'll get only 73 percent of the money he was promised from the state in fiscal year 2010.
Vandal, as well as other school leaders, says a delay is certainly better than a funding cut. But some districts say the shift will create cash flow problems that will be just as bad as a cut.
Vandal says he'll have to borrow the rest to make his annual operating budget of $30 million, a move the will cost the school $120,000 in interest.
"[That amount] would pay for two, three teachers that we could otherwise have in front of our kids," he said. "Instead we'll be spending it on financial institutions so that we can meet the obligations that we have."
- All Things Considered, 06/16/2009, 5:24 p.m.