What’s next for district 748?

District 748 is on a quest to manage the budget for the 2019-2020 school year.


Photo Courtesy of the Sartell Newsleader

The promotional sign in support of passing the 2018 levy.

On last Election Day (Nov, 6 2018) there was a question on the back of the ballot pertaining to the school operating levy. The voters in Sartell and St. Stephen opposed the levy increase, with a total of 60% against and 40% for the levy.

The operating levy for the past few years has been 40 million dollars. With the opening of the new school and other projects around the district. The district was asking for 1.8 million dollars each year for the next 10 years. This would have increased property tax on a $200,000 home in the district by about $165 a year.

With the voters denying the request for more money the school district is faced with a tough challenge, which is to cut out 1.8 million dollars from the budget for the 2019-2020 school year. It is always tough to pass a school levy on an even year because there are a lot of other state and government races on the ballot. Thus causing a lot of distractions for what the school board was trying to market and advertise.

Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert told WJON: “We’re going to take a minute to take a step back and figure those things out.  We will be moving into our new high school on schedule next fall.  We’re going to have to find a way to come up with three-percent out of our current budget to make that work.” 

I met with Director of Business Services for district 748 Joe Prom to go over what the next steps were for the district and to find out what the timeline is for a final solution to the failed levy is. His job is to oversee payroll, accounts payable, purchasing and putting together the school budget along with the Superintendent and school board. He also has been overseeing the construction process of the new school. 

The school district’s budget is very intentional and therefore it is not easy to cut programs or to get rid of staff. The district really cares about all the programs that they offer.”

— Joe Prom, District 748 business director

Over February and March, he will be assembling a plan of action on how to deal with the budget issue. On February the school board will have a work session to go over how the district will have to make budget adjustments to make sure the budget will stay balanced for next year.

The district is faced with an option to find a way to make more revenue whether that be through raising the price of athletics and or increasing the fees to rent out district-owned buildings. The price of school lunch will most likely not be part of the budget adjustment because their money belongs in a separate fund that is not used for classrooms and education.

But since it is not very easy to come up with 1.8 million dollars from raising those prices, the district will most likely have to figure out ways how to spend less money which could be from cutting programs or laying off staff. In the end no one is happy when the school has to start cutting there budget. In a perfect world enough teachers would retire and the district would not hire any new teachers and this would balance out the budget. But this would still affect class sizes and the teacher:student ratio.

Everything we do, we do because we think its the right thing to do.”

— Joe Prom

The school district does have an emergency account known as the “fund balance” that is set up in case the district spends more then it takes in during a given year. Last year the district had to tap into the fund balance; they spent more then what was budgeted for. The current fund balance in the general fund is almost 10 million dollars but some of the money is labeled as “reserved.” This money is set aside for building maintenance and cannot be used for payroll or to by classroom materials. That makes the unassigned fund balance total about 5.6 million dollars; this is the money that is available to address the budget issue.

The board is thinking ahead and does not want to spend down the reserves until there is nothing left. So they have a policy in place that says they cannot use the fund balance if it gets below 10% of the budget for the year. The unassigned fund balance is projected to be down to around 4 million by the end of this year so that money would not be available to use since that is less than 10% of the whole budget of 40 million. Also, the board wants to find a final solution and just going back to the reserves will only make matters worse for the 2020-2021 school year’s budget.

The school board hopes to have a final budget plan done by April 1. This is two months earlier than usual because they want to have time to notify staff of changes. They also want time to decide how to go about ending or changing some programs before the 2019-2020 school year. The board has also not decided if they want to try for a revote this November.

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