After two years of modest deficit spending, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board wants to close its budget gap by about $200.000.
Not all of the proposed adjustments would be in the form of cuts, Superintendent John Regan told the board Feb. 27, after a 2023-2034 budget had been given its first look by the district’s Finance Committee. The committee found a few other revenue sources, he said. But facing a slightly lower enrollment than last year, and seeking to balance the district’s revenue and expenditures for the first time in three years, the committee is taking what Regan, Business Manager Blake Stoltman and a board member of the Finance Committee, Scott Stafford, termed a “conservative approach” to next year’s budgeting process. This may require adjusting administrative and classroom staff assignments to better match available revenue.
Although the board is not taking formal action at this time, more than a dozen teachers were present at the meeting, apparently reflecting their concern over impending funding cuts. Regan and Board Chairwoman Megan Morrison noted that, until the legislative session concludes in May, the district won’t have a firm idea of how many additional dollars might be headed the district’s way during the 2023-2025 biennium. Since the state has projected a budget surplus, it is highly likely that per-pupil funding will increase. However, since the district’s enrollment is down about 20 students from this time last year, total state revenue available may decline, even if per-pupil funding goes up. Also, federal COVID emergency funds have run out, and that funding enabled the district to invest in several facility and programming needs during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.
A likely way that the budget will be balanced is for school officials to develop ways to get by with a fewer staff, slightly larger class sizes, and fewer academic course options. If the legislature comes through with significantly more funding, proposed cuts could get restored. But the district needs to notify its contracted staff by early spring of any potential that their contracts might not be renewed, and that is before the legislative session is over. “If lawmakers come back with more, it would be a benefit,” Stafford said.
“It’s a moving target,” Regan told the board. “We need to figure out how to allocate our resources to align with our strategic plan.”
The board did make one revenue adjustment Monday evening, raising the cost of preschool to $350/month for four-year-olds and $175/month for three-year-olds. Activities Director Marj Maurer said that is the same or slightly lower that other area school districts charge.
- The board heard that the district had cancelled school enough times due to weather that two “snow days” need to be made up. Five “e-learning days” where students did schoolwork on their electronic devices, were permitted by state law, and therefore do not need to be made up. It is anticipated that the “make up” days would be in mid-March. Otherwise, district attendance is running between 94 and 95 percent this school year, a slight improvement over the last couple of years.
- In personnel matters, the board hired Sabrina Sackett and Samantha Anderson as long-term substitutes to replace two paraprofessionals who had left the district. A resignation from elementary teacher Rachel Junkermeier was accepted and Haiiley Schumacher was granted maternity leave for later this spring. Three assistant or junior high spring sports coaches were also assigned.
- Building and Grounds Supervisor Tom Fordyce told the board that snow removal costs will be significantly higher this year. Elementary auditorium improvements are nearly complete, he told the board.
- The board signed a contract with the Minnesota State College and university systems to handle Post Secondary Enrollment Options for 2023-24, in a manner similar to prior years. Basically, the state reimburses local districts for the cost of tuition for district students who are enrolled in PSEO.
• Signed a contract with Pact for Families Collaborative for 25 percent of the cost of a school social worker, plus several other supports for district students with mental health needs.
• Sold three pieces of surplus school equipment to the highest bidders. Additional surplus equipment is offered on the district web site.