The Westonka school board unanimously approved June 8 its adopted budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, including $34.29 million in revenues and $33.94 million in expenditures, yielding a surplus of $350,000.
Reflected in the adopted budget is a 2 percent increase in the state’s general education aid formula. The 2021 fiscal year also marks the first year of funding from the district’s new operating levy, approved by voters by a two-to-one margin last fall.
The district is projecting an additional $1.038 million over the previous year to come from property taxes, this funding to last over four years before phase two of the levy, also estimated to generate an additional $1 million, takes effect during the 2024-2025 school year.
“We’re very grateful for that—also very cautious—and we’re being very efficient,” said Kathy Miller, finance director for Westonka Schools, during the June 8 board meeting. “We know that this funding will be flat for four years and that we need to make this last and work for our students until we get the second step.”
Prior to voters approving the tiered levy, Westonka was sitting dead last of all 22 public school districts in Hennepin County for total school property taxes, which includes levies and bonds. Funding per student was $1,096 for the 2019-2020 school year; for the 2020-2021 year, funding will bump up to $1,446 per student. The next bump, in 2024-2025, shows spending at $1,926 per student.
Westonka Schools has seen year-over-year growth in enrollment since the 2014-2015 academic year and is expected to add an additional 23 students this coming year for a total enrollment of 2,521 students. Nearly all educational funding is tied to enrollment figures.
The largest portion of the general fund budget, nearly 43 percent or $14.46 million, will go toward regular instructional programming. The district is also expected to spend just over 18 percent of its general fund budget, or $6.13 million, on special education in the coming year.
The 2020-2021 adopted budget shows a deposit of $348,400 into the reserve fund, reflecting a change from recent years when the district has had to dip into its reserves to cover shortfalls, one of the contributing factors in last year’s levy push.
Figures from the 2019-2020 revised budget show that general fund reserves are sitting at $2.99 million, or just over 9 percent of expenditures; the adopted budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year projects this balance to inch up to $3.34 million, or 9.85 percent of expenditures.
The district aims to keep a reserve balance of between 8 and 18 percent of the general fund. During the June 8 meeting, Miller said the goal is to “edge more toward the middle” of that range as more definitive information comes from the state level around how the coming academic year will play out. The school board will approves its revised budget in February.
Two additional strains of federal education funding, made available through the CARES Act and meant to help cover costs incurred by the coronavirus pandemic, are added revenues for the coming year. Based on estimates from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and provided by the school district, Westonka is looking at an estimated $21,455 to use for technology and summer school; another $158,811 is expected for mental health and other support services as well as to further supplement summer school expenditures.
“School district leaders across Minnesota and the nation are grappling with new financial uncertainties during this pandemic,” said Miller in response to follow-up questions. “The unexpected shift to distance learning required investments of Chrome books and mobile hotspots to distribute to students in need.”
Miller added that another emphasis would be in keeping school buildings clean and safe for students should they return to the classroom in fall, either fully or through a hybrid classroom and distance learning model. Any in-class instruction would require additional expenditure on added custodial hours, as well purchasing extra disinfects and sanitizers, masks and shields.
School districts throughout the state are expecting to learn more definitevly from MDE and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) during the week of July 27 as to which education delivery model will be recommended for fall.
Outside of the general fund, the Westonka is monitoring its smaller, fee-based funds, including those for student activities, food service and community education.
The district has so far been able to provide free meals to all students and free childcare services to children of essential workers, based on guidelines and reimbursements by the USDA.
“We may need to take some latitude to do some fund transfers to weather the storm of the COVID timeframe,” said Miller during the board meeting. The board would be made aware of those recommendations and be asked to vote on any fund transfers.