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Funding imbalances continue as District 191 looks to set budget

Members of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 Board of Education are developing a General Fund budget for the 2016-17 school year which must be finalized by June 30. They’ve indicated they’ll use the budget reserve again to avoid reductions for next year as Vision One91 is implemented.

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.  

“For the past couple of years, we’ve faced the same issue,” said Superintendent Joe Gothard. “Our ongoing cost of doing business rises by nearly 4% each year. Meanwhile, our primary funding from the State of Minnesota increases by only 2% – and for many years, it’s been less than that.”

Another issue is that state and federal governments don’t adequately fund special education. Costs for special education this year were $9.5 million more than the district received from state and federal funding. So a total of $9.5 million of the General Fund was used to pay for special education costs.

“Drawing from the budget reserve (savings account) for the past couple of years has allowed us to preserve our educational programming, maintain class sizes and even increase some support to students like social workers and cultural liaisons, but it’s not sustainable,” said Gothard.

School financing is complicated. Here are answers to some questions about the budget situation.  

By how much are expenses expected 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.

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Posted: Monday, June 6, 2016 - 14:00