At its meeting on June 23, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 Board of Education approved a budget that aims to provide stability during the 2016-17 school year as the district implements Vision One91-related changes.
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In order to accomplish those goals, Board members approved using $4 million from the district’s budget reserves (savings account) to cover increased expenses that won’t be matched by increased revenue.
Vision One91 is the work to redesign the district to meet the needs of today’s learners. It involves grade realignment, expanded technology and new opportunities for students.
“This isn’t just a simple inflationary increase,” said Board Member Jim Schmid. “This budget accomplishes a lot. We’ve kept class sizes where they are, which are low compared to surrounding districts. We've extended the school day for most students. We’ve added the 8 period day at the middle schools. There’s a lot more accomplished in this budget than it might appear on the surface.”
Lisa Rider, the district’s director of business services, said the budget approved by the board will allow the district to keep class sizes at current levels and maintain or even expand important student support programs, including school counselors, cultural liaisons, mental health services and athletics.
She cautioned, however, that the approach isn’t sustainable. Based on projections, the district’s budget reserves are expected to be just 7 percent of the general fund budget by July 2017.
“We won’t be able to do this indefinitely,” Rider said. “Next year, we will need to make a change by reducing spending, finding a way to increase revenue or both.”
School financing is complicated. Here are answers to some questions about the budget situation.
By how much are expenses budgeted to go up next year?
By a total of $4.5 million but most of that is technology expenses, which will funded by the $2.5 million voter-approved technology levy. Busing costs will increase by $400,000. That leaves $1.6 million (or 1.3% of General Fund expenditures) for all other increases for day-to-day operations including utilities, supplies, salaries, health care, etc.
The community just approved additional money for schools, so how can we be short?
Residents approved a bond referendum for building expansions and a technology levy to increase technology in our district. But this funding is for specific purposes and under state law, it cannot be used for day-to-day operating expenses.
Did Vision One91 increase our operating costs?
Because we will have more square footage, there will be a slight increase to the custodial staff. But whether or not Vision One91 had been approved, we would be having this budget discussion because our annual operating costs are more than the revenue we receive and have been for several years.
Will there be budget reductions for the 2016-17 school year?
The recommendation is to maintain the same class size ratio, but because student enrollment has declined, some probationary teachers will be laid off in proportion to the enrollment decline so that the same ratio is maintained.
What’s been done to reduce costs recently?
- We became self-insured for medical and dental which has kept increases to about 5% – rather than the double digit increases we would be seeing otherwise.
- We’ve refinanced debt to lower interest rates, which will save millions.
- We review expenditures on a regular basis to look for savings. For example, we switched from Outlook to Gmail.
- We gave up leased space for the BEST special education transition program and for early childhood programs and moved them both into our existing buildings.
Are there ways to increase revenue?
The best way to increase revenue is to increase enrollment. The hope is that Vision One91 will attract new students and also help keep existing students.
How can the community become involved in budget development?
Interested community members are invited to serve on a finance advisory committee to join in an ongoing discussion of our financial challenges, to help us maximize resources and align our budget with our student-centered mission.
How can we urge state legislators to adequately fund schools?
School districts rely on the state for most of our funding. District 191 is a member of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) which has been urging legislators to increase the basic education funding formula for school districts and invest more in special education. Superintendent Joe Gothard is actively involved in AMSD and serves on the Executive Board and Legislative Committee.