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Board moves forward with 2020-21 budget, funding priorities

District 191 School Board members met at a work session on March 31 in an effort to get closer to finalizing the district’s budget for 2020-21. Superintendent Theresa Battle had presented a first-look on March 12, emphasizing that the district is taking a values- and priorities-based approach to this year’s process, and that transformational work already completed this year has put the district in a better financial situation.

Among the changes from the March 12 presentation, the district is now working with a projection of 7,606 students. According to Director of Business Services Lisa Rider, this would have left the district facing an $8.5 million deficit if it hadn’t made any changes through its Integrated Action Plan. Instead, Rider presented the following adjustments:

  • Voter-approved levy - $1.6 million in new revenue

  • Closing facilities - $2.6 million in decreased expense

  • Right-sizing staffing based on enrollment - $1.3 million in decreased expense

  • Additional adjustments & efficiencies - $850,000 in decreases expense

Those adjustments would still leave the district with a projected deficit of about $2.2 million. 

Despite decreasing spending significantly, Battle noted that the district has stuck to its goal of putting money toward its priorities. As it stands, the budget includes: 

  • Funding for advanced learning specialists at each elementary school, a crucial part of the plan to establish each school as a “Pathways” school;

  • Additional spending to continue providing in-school access to mental health services for students;

  • Continued support for social workers, cultural liaisons, counselors and other student supports;

  • Continued support for Pathways at Burnsville High School;

  • A new schedule at middle schools to minimize transitions;

  • Ensuring pre-kindergarten classes are available at every elementary school; 

  • Investing in building-level equity teams, equity training for leadership and targeted professional development. 

“When it comes to this budget process, what’s most important is that we are taking a strategic, priorities-driven approach,” Battle said. “I truly believe we are blazing a trail as a school district. Our schools and programs are innovative and this budget will reflect that.”

Addressing the deficit

At the March 31 work session, Board members discussed a number of options to address the projected remaining deficit, including increasing class sizes, increasing walk distances, increasing activity fees and reducing elementary media educational assistant positions. 

No decisions were made at the meeting, but of the options discussed, only a small increase in class sizes garnered support. An increase of 1 student per class would reduce spending by about $900,000, leaving about $1.3 million in deficit. 

By spending down “restricted” reserves, the district could absorb that deficit and maintain its current unassigned fund balance, which acts as an important cash reserve and hedge against unanticipated expenses.  

Next steps

Community members have until Sunday, April 5 to provide input on the budget process through an online form available at www.isd191.org/budget (this form is now closed). 

An adjusted budget recommendation, based on Board and public input, will be presented at the April 9 board meeting, and the final budget will be adopted in June. 

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Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 13:50