‘Unfair’ state funding might lead to STMA deficit spending

by Aaron Brom

SUN PRESS Newspapers


The St. Michael-Albertville School Board heard from staff that limited state education funding might lead to deficit spending next school year.

The board also discussed its next steps concerning action on all-day, everyday kindergarten and took action on other issues.



Supt. Jim Behle presented a financial projection report to the school board.

He said that starting in year 2014/15, STMA is facing as high as a $300,000 funding shortfall that could result in deficit spending or cuts.

“The reason for that is our growth is down to 50 to 75 students per year,” Behle later said. He said the state’s increase in per pupil funding, 1.5 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year, “doesn’t cover what we anticipate our expenses to be, with contract settlements and inflationary costs.”

The board is reviewing the numbers ahead of approving a budget in September, with final approval in December. “The other message is we have to continue to work with the legislature to chance our funding formula so it’s more fair,” Behle said.

As much as 80 percent of the school district’s budget goes to its personnel, but not wanting to affect classroom learning, Behle said the district would have to make adjustments in the other 20 percent, for now. Otherwise staffing, too, could someday be affected. He said the largest percentage of the other 20 percent includes student activities, and “efficiencies” such as energy consumption and transportation.

District voters years ago approved an operating levy increase that sustains the district’s finances for the time being, but Behle said years of inadequate funding at the state level is catching up to the district’s expenses.

“The point is, one year of (funding) increases doesn’t offset a decade of revenue not keeping up with inflation,” he said. “You can’t make up for that in one (legislative) session.”

STMA and other property poor districts have been organizing a lobbying effort to call to attention the funding formula that favors property rich school districts, whose property owners pay a smaller percentage of taxes for the same educational dollar. Behle said that at the end of September STMA would know more of the point of impact that property tax relief has locally.

“We’ll know more after the first week of school,” he said, when the district finally nails down what enrollment will be and how that affects the per pupil funding formula.

The board doesn’t want to wait two or three years from now to cut millions at once, but would rather make adjustments along the way.

Behle said the district is still in very good financial shape, “but at the same time that can quickly turn around.” The district currently has two months worth of budget reserves, which has purposely been building up to offset potential state funding shortages or increases that don’t keep up with inflation.

No new funding mean the district would face deficit spending or budget adjustments, such as future staffing and activity cuts. Behle said that’s a probability “if we stay on the same spending based on projected revenues.”




In other news, the board was updated concerning action on a kindergarten study proposal.

Minnesota school districts are looking to implement all-day, everyday kindergarten in the wake of state funding for the program.

Supt. Behle and curriculum director Ann-Marie Foucault reviewed with the board what the plan is for implementation next school year. They said the new state revenue won’t cover all the costs, but most of them.

“We’re making recommendations on staffing, the budget, transportation and the educational program at the Dec. 2 board meeting,” Behle said. Meanwhile the board would have a couple meetings to discuss the recommendations before making a final decision Jan. 6.

Foucault will work with her staff on curriculum, staffing and the program. A parent meeting has been set for Nov. 11.

“Then we’ll do some surveying of parents, how many might be interested in a half-day option,” Behle said. “We’ll put together a plan for Dec. 2.”

The board provided in put on the planning process, saying it wants a more detailed communication plan.

In other matters, the board:

APPROVED adding a weight room coach for the high school fitness facility. The position will be funded in the Community Education budget for $3,600 for three days per week after school supervision.