Board of Education looks to make $631,900 in cuts

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher
Swift County Monitor-News

Facing an estimated general fund deficit of $631,900 in the 2019-2020 school year budget, the District 777 Board of Education made a series of painful cuts at its March 18 meeting.

Those cuts will affect the classes offered to students in Benson Public Schools, the number of faculty on staff, custodial services, the bus for summer marching band trips, and even the amount of paper the schools use.

Based on current state funding and local tax revenues, the school district estimates its general fund operating income for the 2019-2020 school year at $9,350,700 with expenses of $9,982,600 - a deficit of $631,900.

It is the general fund that accounts for faculty salaries, the courses offered, and the general operations of the school district.

When food services, transportation, community education, capital needs and the scholarship fund are included, budget revenues are projected at $11,643,900 with expenses of $12,375,700, for a deficit of $731,800. Food service adds $52,800 to the deficit and transportation nearly $20,000.

The capital account adds $175,700, but the community education budget shows a loss of $202,300 with revenues at $634,100. This is an area the board needs to look at when it is talking about reductions, School Finance Manager Dave Benson said.

For budgeting purposes, the school finance committee has put in a 2 percent increase in state funding, though some years it has only been 1.5 percent, Benson said.

“We can’t tax our way out and we can’t increase the operating levy to produce enough revenue to get out of this,” Board Chair Brian Samuelson said of the deficit ahead. The student funding formula revenues are from the state and represents 90 percent of the district’s revenue with referendum revenue 10 percent, he said. “We couldn’t do a levy referendum large enough…” to cover the projected budget deficit. “Nor would we want to.”

The state school funding formula for the 2019-20 school year is estimated at $7.115 million while the local school referendum operating level income is projected at $705,629.

Currently, the voter approved levy referendum represents about $1,255 per student while the state aid is projected at $6,438 per pupil. The district could levy up to $1,800 for its operating levy under state law, Laumeyer said. Even at that level, it wouldn’t cover the projected loss in the coming year, he added.

Though the school district’s voters approved a $26.3 million bond last year it can only be used for construction, it can’t be used for operations, Laumeyer said.

Looking back to the funding the school district received for education in 2003, District 777 is down $600 per student when compared to inflation. “Imagine if we had $600 more per pupil in our general fund and what we would be able to do with that,” Laumeyer said.

The district is projected to have 837.8 pupil units in the 2019-2020 school year. The additional $600 would provide $502,680 in funding for the school district, reducing its projected deficit to about $130,000.

If the state would have kept school funding up with inflation the past 16 years, it would have reduced the need for staff reductions, course cuts, operating referendums and provided for a more stable budget.

When the difference between what metropolitan schools get for funding and what Benson Public Schools get for student funding, the disparity increases to $685 per student, or $573,893 for the coming school year, Laumeyer said.
 
“The state has shifted so much to local taxpayers, rather than providing state aid through formula dollars and other things,” he said. Currently, 98 to 99 percent of the school districts in Minnesota have an operating levy in place because state funding has not kept up with inflation with the average operating levy paid by local taxpayers at $1,000 per student.....

 

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