School board approves new budget

by Jim Boyle

Editor

After sifting through the impacts of a win-some, lose-some legislative session, the Elk River Area School Board approved on June 24 its 2013-14 budget.

The budget has projected revenues of $126,531,519 and projected expenditures of $129,365,591, resulting in nearly $3 million in deficit spending.

An earlier version of the budget included a mix of budget cuts totaling nearly $2.7 million and $2.1 million in deficit spending.

The funding formula was increased by 1.5 percent and the district will get more special education funding, but Superintendent Mark Bezek told the board that the Legislature “dropped a couple bombs.”

Bezek pointed to the mandated set-aside for staff development and another unfunded mandate calling for the district to prepare for a new system of teacher evaluations.

School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting summarized it this way: “Everything we got has been taken away with mandates.”

Greg Hein, the Elk River Area School District’s executive director of business services didn’t disagree.

“That’s true the first year,” he said. “Things are a little better in the second year.”

That’s when money for all-day, every-day kindergarten will kick in.

As for this coming year’s budget, the Elk River Area School District has added back into its budget a 2 percent set-aside for staff development that previous sessions of the Legislature waived.

Hein said this piece of general revenue, which in past years could be spent however the district chose, will now be spent after a committee, comprised primarily of teachers and some district officials, is assembled to discuss how to handle it.

This group and the board could agree to waive the set-aside funds.

District 728 officials and teachers have not had time to talk yet about forming a committee or what to do with staff development funds.

“It’s so new,” Hein said of the Legislature’s actions. “I don’t believe there has been any activity.”

The Elk River school district had been spending $178,000 on staff development without any mandates pressuring them to spend more. That line item in the budget has been pulled.

The district will have to establish the structure and a principal component this year, and the new evaluations will start the following year, Hein said.

There had been money in proposed legislation this spring to help defray set-up costs, but it was stripped from the larger bill it was in before final approval.

The Elk River Area School District exceeded its plans to cut more than $2.6 million from this year’s budget. The plan is to cut another $2.6 million or more from the 2014-15 school budget.

This year’s deficit spending will take the school district’s unassigned fund balance down from $12 million to $9 million. School Board policy requires at least 5 percent of its budget or $5.3 million in an unassigned fund balance, leaving a $3.8 million surplus.

“Assuming we cut the $2.75 million next year, we will have a surplus of $636,000,” Hein said.

Revenue sources for the budget include state revenue (80 percent), local property taxes (14 percent), federal revenue (3 percent) and other local revenue (3 percent).

Expenditures are directed toward salaries and wages (58 percent), employee benefits (22 percent), purchased services (11 percent), transfers (4 percent), buildings and equipment (3 percent) and supplies (2 percent).

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