A closer look at levy impact in Osseo Area Schools

Decreasing enrollment means district expects $2 million in cuts even with levy revenue

Many voters in the Osseo School District have heard that if they don’t approve the operating levy on the Nov. 6 ballot, the district will potentially face $14 million in cuts during the next two years. They know that would likely result in the loss of about 200 jobs, and they’ve heard some cuts will probably happen even if the levy is approved.

All that’s true. But as they make final decisions, voters may want to know a few details about the numbers.

The district expects to cut about $2 million, or approximately 28 full-time employees, even if the operating levy is approved. That’s because those cuts would result from the normal process of “aligning” staffing with enrollment. But those cuts may or may not affect class sizes or services.

The district expects enrollment to decline, and when that happens the district typically must reduce the number of teachers and staff proportionally. Theoretically, if children distributed themselves evenly throughout the system, such reductions wouldn’t affect class sizes or services. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

This year the district cut about $2 million for the purpose of alignment and was able to manage the cuts without significantly affecting class sizes, according to Supt. Kate Maguire.

Here’s how expected reductions due to declining enrollment fit with current budget projections:

Budget worksheets dated Sept. 18 show projected revenue, expenses and required cuts for two scenarios. One scenario includes revenue from the proposed operating and technology levies. The other does not. Both worksheets list the projected “budget reduction needed” in order to stay out of debt and keep enough cash on hand to cover two-and-a-half weeks of operations.

In the scenario that includes increased levy revenue, the additional “budget reduction needed” in the next two years is $0, with cuts required after that, unless something changes. But this scenario still includes $2 million in cuts for aligning staffing with enrollment.

In the scenario without increased levy revenue, the worksheet projects a “budget reduction needed” of $12 million. That’s on top of the $2 million already included because of declining enrollment, for a total of $14 million in cuts.

The difference between the two projected scenarios is $12 million in cuts over the next two years.

Maguire says the district has focused on the $14 million figure because it is “the most accurate way to describe what could potentially happen.”

“I think the most important messages to communicate are about what the implications are,” she said.

Using the $12 million figure wouldn’t be accurate, according to Maguire, because total cuts could be higher if the levy fails, even though $2 million of those cuts would be due to the normal staffing “alignment” process.

“The net … bottom line is $14 million in reductions,” she said. “Because we want to be transparent and truthful, we are careful to say ‘approximately $14 million’ and ‘potential’ reductions.”

If the levy passes, Maguire said, it would give the district more choices and potentially more flexibility when aligning staffing with enrollment.

“In the end, it’s all about total revenue,” she said. “If you have that additional funding … it gives you additional choices. … We’re so tightly budgeted we don’t have lots of extra to make choices with.”

Maguire said the district is always looking for ways to operate more efficiently and eliminate waste, and she pointed out some state revenue remains uncertain.

Maguire also emphasized the progress the school district is making. She said the district has shown measurable improvements in proficiency tests and other growth measures and has seen higher enrollment in its most rigorous courses and better on-time graduation rates.

“I always emphasize the evidence in progress … that we’ve made over the past five years,” she said.

The district says the cost of providing the same services has gone up and it needs the additional revenue from the operating levy to continue the progress it has made.

Maguire emphasized the district has a plan for continuous improvement and has received community input to guide that plan. She also pointed out the plan includes “strategic use of resources.”

For more information from the district on the proposed levies, and to estimate the effect on property taxes, go to district279.org and click “Learn more about the levy requests.”