The St. Michael-Albertville school board approved a $87.8 million preliminary budget for fiscal year 2019 last week. The budget is unique from previous budgets of recent years in that it takes approximately $454,000 from the district’s sizable fund balance.
The school district has been adding to, rather than taking from, their fund balance every year for at least a decade, and it now sits just over double the school district policy of holding 1.5 months of expenditures in reserve. Even with the planned dip into the reserve fund, the district still estimates a fund balance of $15.62 million at the end of the next fiscal year, or nearly 26 percent. The fund balance for FY 2018, ending later this week, is $16.08 million.
Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said the last time the school board planned to dip into their fund balance for an annual budget was in 2009, the year the new high school opened. However, additional funding from a higher-than-expected student enrollment made up for that planned shortfall.
Foucault said they expect an additional 63 students in STMA schools this fall, just under a 1 percent increase over last year. She said the increases in student enrollment have caused the district to dip into its reserves this year, leading them to hire additional teachers and special education staff and also some support positions like a .5 social worker for Albertville Primary, which Foucault said supports the district’s strategic direction of creating a social-emotional support system, and a .5 dean of students at each middle school. The current middle school activities director/AD, Scott Sukalski, has retired, and in his place the board approved a re-work of that position where each middle school will have its own administrator working half-time as dean of students and half-time as activities director.
“We are fortunate to enjoy a very high middle school participation rate of 83.5 percent, so Mr. Sukalski is quite busy,” she said. “Since 2009, when the two middle schools split, student enrollment has grown 31 percent. Staff numbers have also grown and the observation requirements have increased sharply. The additional .5 FTE dean will help with discipline, which would free up the assistant principal to do more teacher observations and focus on being an instructional leader for teachers.”
Hiring for “Foundational” Departments
In addition to new hires that work directly with students, Foucault said they have added staff to foundational departments that indirectly affect students, such as custodial, technology and finance. They hired 1.5 positions for the technology/print shop, which Foucault said has not increased in staff size since 2006.
“The number of students, staff, computers, and infrastructure/equipment have increased significantly,” she said. “In the past decade there’s been an increase in students (+2000) and staff (+213) as well as an increase in number of computers (+3,000), mobile devices (+3,000), management, and repair.”
The district also plans to add a staff person to the finance/centralized enrollment department. Foucault said they have added just one person to this department since 2005 despite the additional students and staff, and a significantly higher budget. The budget was $33.66 million in fiscal year 2006, compared with $87.84 million this fiscal year.
“These three departments are at a tipping point,” Foucault said. “These are really critical needs, not wants. They will impact students and staff.”
The district’s overall expenditures look as though they exceed revenues by nearly $18 million this fiscal year, but less than a half-million of that comes from general fund expenditures. The vast majority of the excess is actually bond project spending from the district’s building fund, not day-to-day expenditures. Foucault said all but around $1 million of the building fund will be spent by the end of fiscal year 2019, with the remaining amount saved for the rest of the bond’s planned technology spending.
They also plan to spend down the large food service fund balance by over $400,000 with upgrades to kitchen equipment, as that money cannot be used for general fund expenditures. For instance, the school board recently approved a replacement for the walk-in freezer/cooler that Middle School West has had since 1992, at a price of $167,000, and they are adding staff for the new breakfast program.
“Our fund balance for food service was at 44.4 percent,” Foucault said. “The state has been asking [food service director] Ms. Helgeson to spend that down.
The school board approved the preliminary budget and new hires unanimously.