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Report Dispels Teacher Salary Myth
by Tim Pugmire
February 2, 2000
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A new report from the Legislative Auditor says while some Minnesota school districts are having budget problems, the overall financial health of schools is better than a decade ago. The study of school district finances also found that average teachers' salaries have declined in the last 10 years.

See the Report
The complete report is available on the legislative auditor's Web site.
THE OFFICE OF THE LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR sent surveys to every public school district in Minnesota, asking questions on a variety of fiscal issues. About 80 percent responded. Researchers looked at state funding levels, school district spending and trends in staffing and enrollment over the past decade. Deputy Auditor Roger Brooks says the overall conclusions of the report are reassuring.
Brooks: There is no statewide financial crisis in our school districts. In fact, schools districts are generally in better financial shape today than they were 10 years ago. Fund balances are up, classroom spending is up and the number of teachers per 1,000 students has risen.
That increase in teacher-student ratio resulted in class size reductions, particularly in kindergarten and elementary grades. But the hiring of more teachers and regular pay raises have not driven up education costs. Brooks says schools have hired many new teachers at entry-level wages. He says the statewide average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, has dropped four-percent over the past decade.

"We're facing shortages all over the country, certainly in this state. And we have career teachers bailing out of the profession and new teachers not wanting to come into the profession."

- Sandra Peterson
Union president
The report did not address the adequacy of teacher salaries, but Sandra Peterson, co-president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, says the findings tell her that schools haven't done enough for teachers.
Peterson: As a result, we're facing shortages all over the country, certainly in this state. And we have career teachers bailing out of the profession and new teachers not wanting to come into the profession.
On average, school districts are in great shape. But some districts are struggling with serious budget problems. The report found one-third of the state's school districts made budget cuts last year. At least 22 districts are currently in the red. DFL Representative Mindy Greiling says the report sends an importamt message to those districts.
Greiling: I think every district should look at their own answers and compare them with the averages of the state that are fine. And if your local district isn't fine, then I think you have to look at your local practices rather than blaming the state level.
Officials with the Department of Children, Families and Learning say the legislative auditor's report is consistent with their own analysis of fiscal issues. Commissioner Christine Jax says the report is a fair and accurate portrayal of the situation but sheds no new light on school finances. Jax says there are still many unanswered questions.
Jax: Well, it would be helpful for us to have more facts as far as where the money goes and how it is we end up with inequity. If we don't have a crisis, and there does seem to be enough money out there, why is it some districts are having greater problems than other districts are having? And we need to figure that out. Is it just a decline in student enrollment? Is it in order to compete for salaries? Or are there some other things going into it?
Jax is trying to answer those questions as she leads an effort to restructure the state's education financing, which is based on a complicated mix of state and local money. Governor Ventura has said the current system is too complex and wants it simplified. The commissioner says recommendations will be sent to the Governor by early summer. The legisalture will then tackle the proposals in the 2001 session.