LETTER TO THE EDITOR: What is the real intent of the school survey?
The following is a letter to the editor submitted to the Bemidji Pioneer by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bemidji Pioneer. To submit a letter, email email@example.com or mail it to Bemidji Pioneer, P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.
A few days ago I received the Bemidji Area Schools survey. Surveys are supposed to be objective questionnaires used to gather information. It’s obvious this really isn’t a survey, but a thinly veiled attempt to try to convince the community to ignore the vote that rejected the operating levy increase so they can place it on the ballot again. If you don’t like the voting results, why not just hold a new election?
If the state’s funding has not kept up with the inflation rate, the district should be taking their case to the state, not to local property owners. My property taxes went up over 6% last year, far higher than inflation. If the school district is still short $2.5 million, they should do what private businesses are forced to do in this situation: look into reducing salaries and/or benefits.
In 2020, about 80% of the school’s general fund expenses of $72 million went to salaries and benefits, which is about $57.6 million. If you made an across-the-board cut of about 4.4% you would completely eliminate your shortage. Then you wouldn’t need to increase class size or make other cuts to staff positions or activities listed in the survey.
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Many people don’t know, but a starting teacher’s wage in the district is about $41,000 and with continued education and experience can grow to $80,000. They also have summers and many other days off and a great benefits package.
This is for nine months of work, so translates into an annual salary range of about $54,600 to $106,000. Very few private-sector jobs in the Bemidji area start at $54,600 (or $41,000 with summers off) or can grow to $106,000 (or $80,000 with summers off).
Administration level salaries, in many cases, are also much higher than in the private sector. A 4.4% cut seems to be a reasonable option, yet is not listed as one in the survey.
Now I’m not saying that teachers and school administrators don’t have a difficult and important job and they are certainly deserving of fair pay and benefits. However, their pay and benefits package seems much better than in the private sector, as well as that of other governmental jobs in our community.
If the teachers’ union refuses to consider pay or benefit cuts, then I ask, who runs our community? Citizens and elected officials, or the teachers’ union?