Last year, the St. Michael-Albertville school district’s preliminary budget called for dipping into the district’s fund balance by about $450,000, but higher-than-anticipated student enrollment brought the district back into the black for 2018-19. It’s too early to tell whether that will happen again for the 2019-2020 school year, but based on preliminary numbers, STMA district leaders are planning to spend down its $16-plus million dollar fund balance by just over $424,000 to balance next year’s budget without cuts.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is proposing a three percent increase for the first year of the next budget biennium and two percent for the second year, but school administrators decided to assume a two percent increase for next year. Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said they typically assume a conservative one percent increase, but after much consideration they decided a two percent increase was the most likely scenario for next year.
“We knew this day would come,” board chair Drew Scherber said of the plan to deficit spend. “We thought it would be here years before this because of the low funding we are getting, but we haven’t really done that. But we have a decent reserve.”
Foucault concurred, saying the district’s policy is to maintain 1.5 months of expenditures in reserve, but they currently have close to 2.8 months in reserve. While the district’s healthy fund balance has spared them from cuts for next year, she noted they cannot sustain deficit spending long-term if budget shortfalls continue to occur. Neighboring District 728, encompassing Otsego, Rogers, Elk River and Zimmerman, is anticipating a much steeper shortfall and are making plans for $10.2 million in budget cuts for next school year, though they are working under an assumption of a one percent increase.
Staffing Requests Approved
Next year’s budget includes an increase of 7.763 teachers that the school board approved Monday evening. Foucault said she received several additional staffing requests, but due to the lean budget she cut the final list down to propose the following changes based on projected student enrollment: one additional elementary teacher at St. Michael Elementary, three additional Middle School West teachers and two fewer Middle School East teachers. The high school will see the biggest increase in staffing next year because the school will graduate a class of 440 students in May while welcoming 565 new freshman in the fall; the school board approved just over 5 new teaching positions to accommodate the additional 125 students. High School principal, Bob Driver, said the school’s population will stabilize after next school year, with comparably-sized outgoing and incoming classes projected for the foreseeable future.
Foucault said the district projects the student population to grow by 100 students next year. Last year the district gained 143 more students than they had anticipated and budgeted for. She said that may happen again but they did not want to count on it.
The school board will approve a final budget for 2019-2020 in June.