School Board Approves Taking Proactive Budget Measures
During its February meeting, the Big Lake School Board approved budget guidelines requiring administration to reduce general fund expenditures for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.
“Unfortunately, our forecasting tool is telling us if we don’t take proactive measures now, the district’s fund balance will be depleted within a few years,” Superintendent Westerberg said. “We’ve decided instead of making larger budget cuts down the road, a series of smaller budget reductions over the next few years is more fiscally responsible.”
District administration will be working over the next month to identify areas of the budget that can be reduced while trying to protect programming and class sizes.
The district has strategically been working to increase its fund balance, which acts like an emergency savings account, to help offset projected budget deficits that begin this year and will continue unless funding improves.
Last year, the district was able to add $1 million to the unrestricted fund balance bringing the total to $6.1 million. At the end of this school year the fund balance will decrease by about $452,000; followed by a projected decrease of $1.3 million in 2019-2020. The following school year, the fund balance is expected to decrease by $2.3 million, and in 2021-2022 the fund balance is estimated to be depleted. These projections are based on current information and do not take into account possible budget adjustments, changes to state aid, and enrollment changes.
“Making a series of budget reductions will allow the district to have a positive operating fund balance longer than projected,” Westerberg said. “Hopefully it will buy us enough time until additional state funding becomes available.”
Big Lake’s financial situation mimics a majority of school districts in the state that point to inadequate state funding as the primary reason for their budget deficits. According to Schools for Equity in Education, state aid per pupil has eroded by $1,416 since 1991 due to the formula not keeping pace with inflation. Additionally, due to the underfunding of special education, districts are subsidizing special education expenditures with general education money. Big Lake must spend about $3.3 million from its general fund to pay for the unfunded cost of mandated special education services. Both of these equate to a loss of about $2,408 per student each year.
Community members are encouraged to get involved with school funding and making your views known to legislators and our Governor. Community members can also attend this year’s “Day at the Capital” on March 25 with Superintendent Westerberg and school board members to speak with legislators about funding. If interested, please contact Superintendent Westerberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.