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February 22, 2019

1/31/2019 4:15:00 PM
School Board dealing with familiar scenario: budget woes

The budget process for North Branch School District for 2019-2020 is already promising to be a rocky one. The School Board heard last week there’s about a $2.7 million difference between where the budget revenues will be,  versus what the district wants to expend as well as what it’s able to collect in local taxes and expect from outside funding streams.

The Board is holding a public hearing for input from parents of students and members of the general public March 7, during the regular evening Board session.

Prior to this the School Board is collecting and reviewing budget cutting options.  A daytime retreat for school board members to meet at-length, informally, is scheduled for Saturday, February 9 at the high school.  

Draft recommendations for reductions identified between now,  and when the School Board meets February 28, will be in the meeting materials for early review.  Budget finalization action, after the hearing at the Board’s March 7 meeting,  is the plan.

Early guides
The district recommends class size be one of its top priorities to keep in view as budget reductions are considered. This was shown in materials the School Board reviewed last week.  It’s closely followed by maintaining career and technical education programs, supporting gifted and talented options, and arts programs and making sure the objectives of the 2017 referendum package are “fulfilled.”

The district is welcoming suggestions based on what district families see as budget priorities.  The public can attend the hearing or comment immediately via email and on a voicemail line set up for the public.  

Voicemail is at 651-674-1080.  The e mail address is budgetinput@isd138.org.

The state funding formula has not kept pace, school board members were advised.  North Branch’s Special Education costs are also not being covered by federal program aid.

In a listing complied by Schools for Equity in Education, ranking all Minnesota district revenues, North Branch is no longer at the bottom in pupil revenue; but is still 235 out of 331 districts, based on data for 2017-2018.  North Branch gets about $9,800 in total per pupil unit.  

The least-funded district, now is St Michael-Albertville, which receives $8,429.  

At the top of funding is the district in Hendricks MN at $16,723 per pupil.  

Minneapolis is number 12 at $14,065.

Rankings list a minimum of 122 school districts receiving at least $11,000 per pupil, according to Schools for Equity in Education.  

Many districts in this ranking list have revenues from local operating referendum-approved levies, which North Branch does not.  There was a yes vote on  $70 million in capital projects for referendum-approval in 2017, but this money is only for projects, like roofs, additions, HVAC and flooring replacement, etc.  

North Branch has also acknowledged that,  as the real estate recession and foreclosure crisis hit, student enrollment failed to grow.  Recent housing construction is helping the school-age population rebound, but North Branch is not among districts seeing growth in enrollment numbers.

Also, districts may qualify for sources of revenues dedicated to certain groups, such as English language learner populations, or special facilities’ aid based on age of structures, or HeadStart and other miscellaneous levies.  There are over a dozen separate state-authorized levy formula categories that any school district may or may not get income for.  The Board was reminded the basic funding formula from the state has not maintained pace with basic Consumer Price Index numbers, and state funding levels are about where they were in the 1990s.

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