Minn. proposal aims to streamline school services

Science lab
A high school science lab.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Minnesota school districts and charter schools would be required to pool their purchasing power under a plan unveiled Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and several legislators say public schools could save money on information technology, food services, supplies, equipment, transportation and other services by working cooperatively.

Supporters of the plan say it would not directly help resolve the state's projected $4.8 billion budget deficit. Still, Pawlenty says there will be many similar ideas considered during the 2009 session.

"We are experiencing an economic, demographic, technological sea change internationally, nationally and locally, and business as usual just isn't going to cut it," Pawlenty said. "And it's not a Republican thing, it's not a Democrat thing. It's going to have to be a 'we' thing. And this is a good first start." Under the proposal, the Department of Education would establish a list of preferred vendors for shared services.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, the House sponsor of the bill, says it won't impact the state's budget deficit.

"All of the savings from this proposal go right back into the school districts," he said. "This is not a way to help balance the state budget. This is truly a way to dedicate more of the money that we're spending on education in the classroom."

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Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher calls the plan a "distraction to the real problem."

"We have to look at this proposal carefully, like any other proposal that will come forward, but it's sort of like the senator that introduced the bill or the suggestion yesterday that we all turn back our postage stamps," Dooher said. "Is that going to save money? It's absolutely going to save money. Is it going to make a dent in the budget? No, it's not."

Tuesday, Senate Republicans proposed cutting a thousand stamps from each Senator's allotment to save money. Lawmakers are facing a projected $4.8 billion budget deficit over the next two years.

Pawlenty said he hopes lawmakers will pass the proposal this month or next, putting the requirement in place for the 2009-2010 school year.

Pawlenty said he is looking at more proposals to streamline government services.

His office said a separate effort to consolidate purchases of computers, office furniture and other goods and services will save the state and local governments $210 million through mid-2011.

"Nobody's saying, 'I really care about where you buy that paper,"' Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said at a Capitol news conference. "They don't care about that. What they care about is what's happening in that classroom between the students and the teacher."

Sponsors couldn't say how much the bill would save Minnesota schools, but said schools in states such as Pennsylvania have cut costs between 5 percent and 15 percent by buying software and other goods in bulk.

(The Minnesota News Network and Associated Press contributed to this report.)