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Funding shortfalls mean more reductions for District 191

Members of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 Board of Education will try to keep a reserve fund that equals between 6 and 7 percent of the district’s total budget in 2019-20 – representing only 16 or 17 days’ worth of expenses – but doing so will mean making spending reductions of around $7 million.

At the Dec. 13 Board meeting, Business Director Lisa Rider pointed to state and federal funding that falls well short of increased costs as a primary reason for the expected budget shortfall. The meeting represented the unofficial start of the district’s process to set a budget for the school year starting July 1, 2019.

“Even in places where enrollment is steady or growing, districts are having to make cuts because state and federal aid doesn’t keep up with growing costs or cover some mandated services,” Rider said. “Of the $7 million expected gap between spending and revenue, only $2 million is due to declining enrollment. The rest is because aid isn’t keeping pace with basic cost of living increases.”

Over the past 15 years, a gap of nearly $600 per pupil has grown between actual state aid and the inflation-adjusted figure, resulting in a $5 million revenue shortfall for District 191 schools.

In addition, both the federal government and state government have underfunded special education programming for many years. Those services, which are mandated by law, are essential for supporting the individual needs of students. The underfunding causes what’s called the “special education cross subsidy,” where school districts use general funds to pay for special services. In District 191, the cross subsidy for the current school year is $12.7 million, according to Rider.

“Those are important and needed services,” Rider said. “Unfortunately, by not meeting their obligations, the state and federal governments put us in a very difficult position.”

Rider noted that the numbers presented at the board meeting are estimates and will be updated after a routine mid-year adjustment in January.

Regarding the expected $7 million in spending cuts, Board Chair Jim Schmid said he knows they will be difficult, but that maintaining some reserve funding was important to the district’s financial health.

Process includes opportunities for public input

Rider presented a timeline for this year’s budget process that shows an initial list of proposed adjustments coming to the board by early February and a final list of adjustments presented by March 14.

The process will include opportunities for input from community members and staff. An online budget input form will be open to the public starting on Monday, Dec. 17, and remain open throughout the process. Proposed adjustments will be presented at several board meetings and a public forum is tentatively set for February.

For the full timeline and ongoing budget information, go to www.isd191.org/budget.

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2018 - 14:30