2/2/2017 4:23:00 PM Special Ed funding shortfall,
lost enrollment creating red ink
North Branch School District principals and administrators were informing staff last Friday of the school board’s timeline and process to trim the general operating budget for 2017-2018-- which will be short by about $1.7 million and which needs another million-plus to boost fund balances, resulting in “adjustments” of some $2.9 million overall.
The full School Board; including the newly-elected members Darryl Goebel, Sarah Grovender and Miranda Michaud, met Thursday Jan. 26 and adopted the legally required budget revision timeframe. Notices affecting employment have a legal window during which they must be presented, so the School Board only has about two months to make budget cuts that impact staff. The Board was advised by the district finance director, “From tonight until you act there are a lot of people in limbo...we try not to drag this on.”
Parents, district residents, business owners, etc. have through February to comment and make suggestions on savings. The School Board will also hold a half-day retreat to review details of the district’s expenses.
There will be action taken by the School Board March 9. Starting at 5:30 p.m. that same night, the Board also welcomes any citizens who wish to comment directly. There is a public hearing at the Board room from 5:30 to about 7 p.m. March 9.
Based on past experiences, most public input is expected to be contributed by e mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org OR left by phone messages on the district’s hotline 651-674-1080.
North Branch School Board has already set in motion a bond vote for May 2017-- but this springtime ballot is only for borrowing authority to do construction funds and address technology needs. It has no effect on operating expenses. Many districts in Minnesota have successfully had local taxpayers vote to authorize “excess” levy funds to be added onto local property taxes, and as a result they have much more money per-pupil to run their districts on.
North Branch has no operating excess levy in place.
The Board members were was reminded the budget revisions can come only in operating, and accounts for food service and transportation budgets, for example, are kept separate under Minnesota law. When North Branch started this school year 2016-2017 the carryover on the General Fund line was budgeted to be $1.3 million but for a variety of reasons it was about $200,000 shy. Also-- general fund expenses are running about $31.6 million and were projected to be $30.6 million.
Finance Director Randi Johnson, who retires at the end of this year having served 36 years at North Branch, sounded frustrated when she told the Board her conservative end-of-last year carryover projections, for the first time ever, were not met.
One thing impacting the budget in North Branch is the new Special Education funding formula. It is unreliable and doesn’t result in the level of assistance the district is used to receiving, Johnson explained. Even though it was touted as an improvement, it has not worked out that way.
There was also an ability to do third party billing and recoup for certain services, which last year fell to “zero” according to Johnson.
Lacking district staff to fill specialized positions, a speech pathologist for example, are costing extra.
North Branch school district has a fund balance maintenance policy, and for the 2016-2017 fiscal year it is missing that mark, which ideally ought to be $1.697 million. Johnson said it is a priority to build the fund balance back up.
The Governor proposes school funding increases of two percent each year in the state’s biennial budget, but even at two percent, the district will not keep up with inflation, Johnson explained. State lawmakers who can respond to North Branch District funding concerns are State Senator Mark Koran 651-296-5419 or e mail his aide at email@example.com and House member Brian Johnson 651-296-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Citizens are encouraged to share thoughts with the legislature.
Budget factors out of the School Board control are: ~ The North Branch enrollment numbers were hit by the real estate recession and have not yet begun to rebound. Distance Learning program attendees are growing in numbers, however. ~ There were some retirements that helped trim payroll a couple years ago, but little attrition is expected for a while, Johnson added. ~ Three storm damage claims carried hefty deductibles. ~ The number of families qualifying for free or reduced lunch which affects compensatory aid revenues has fallen. It’s a positive local economic indicator, but, then the district also receives less funding.