Weather Forecast


District 833 School Board's upcoming budget may hit several snags

On first glance the South Washington County Schools budget for 2013-14 looks a lot like the current budget.

Spending is up slightly, and, if nothing changes, there would remain a $6.1 million deficit.

But there are complications this year. Contracts for eight of the district's largest bargaining units, including teachers, must be settled and it is unclear what the new Legislature will do with education funding since the state faces a $1 billion deficit.

On the plus side for the district is its enrollment, which sagged in 2008-09 because of the nationwide fiscal crisis but has been going up slightly each year since. Each student generates additional state revenue for district operations.

There might not be a legislative decision until the last day of the session in late May, shortly before a final budget must be set by the District 833 School Board.

In the sixth year of deficit spending, the district has used reserves and a combination of spending cuts and re-allocated funding to balance the budget.

The fund balance, slightly under $19 million in 2010-11, is projected to drop to $4.5 million next year. That would be below the district's policy of maintaining 5 to 9 percent of the general fund, or one month's expenses.

To comply with the policy, the board would have to cut at least $850,000 from the next budget, according to Aaron Bushberger, district finance director.

In the past, the board has approved separate budgets for the general fund, which mainly covers employee salaries; transportation; and capital outlay, which pays for items other than salaries, repairs or buildings.

This year, under new Superintendent Keith Jacobus, since all three budgets are in the general fund for accounting purposes, all three are being reviewed together.

The district receives $134 million, or 80 percent, of its funding from the state, $4.4 million from federal sources and the remainder from voter-approved local property taxes.

In each of the last two budget years, the state gave school districts a 1 percent funding increase for the cost of borrowing money to cover delayed payments the state used to balance its budgets. District 833 didn't have to borrow to cover the state payment delays. It might have left a net gain of $1 million each year, according to board member Jim Gelbmann, but the district also lost about $300,000 in interest on money used temporarily to make up for the shifts.

The district's enrollment dynamics have changed since the late 1990s, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations.

There are fewer kindergarten students entering the district than in the graduating class that's leaving.

In recent months, additional housing developments have been slated in Woodbury and Cottage Grove, but actual kids entering the school system won't happen for at least 18 months, he said.

The students also appear to be older and not in primary grades.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600