On Monday, March 29, the Albertville City Council, St. Michael City Council and the STMA School Board all met for their first Joint Governance Meeting of the year. Neither city had updates for the group, as STMA Superintendent Ann-Marie Foucault and STMA Director of Business Services Kris Crocker spent a majority of the meeting discussing the current financial crisis facing the district.

As was discussed in depth at the School Board’s March 15 meeting, the STMA district is set to reduce its budget by $4.3 million by taking a series of measures, including the reduction of 40-50 staff members. Superintendent Foucault and Crocker explained to the councils how the district got to this point — which they describe as a “perfect storm” of pandemic costs, declining enrollment and low funding — and briefed them of their plan of action to reach financial stability.

“We’ve got a lot of different things that we are trying to do, to get our home-school kids to come back to us, and to offer an online option, even though we don’t necessarily agree that is best for most kids,” said Foucault, “But if we don’t offer an online option, kids are going to go down the road and they are going to stay out of our district.”

If the district can successfully boost enrollment while keeping costs down, some of the staff positions cut may be able to return.

“We are hoping to call them back, but it might not be until June, and it might not be ever,” said Foucault. “As Kris showed you with our budget, we aren’t growing like we used to grow … something’s got to give.”

Crocker also explained how a potential operating referendum could help the district get back on its feet, as additional cuts will likely be made next year regardless of enrollment and action from legislators.

“We’ve known that our expenses are starting to accelerate faster than our revenue, largely due to that enrollment number not increasing as much as it had been 10-15 years ago … So we knew we were anticipating some budget reductions for fiscal [year] 22, just certainly not to this depth,” said Crocker.

A Steering Committee for this potential operating referendum has been organized, and they will have made a decision by the end of August on how to proceed. Looking at baseline estimates, Foucault said that if the district were to ask for a boost of $700 per pupil, this would cost a taxpayer with a $300,000 market value house a total of about $484 per year.

No action was taken at this meeting, and both Foucault and Crocker recommended folks take advantage of the FAQ page on the STMA website to better understand the potential referendum and its impact.

“It sounds kind of corny, but we are like a family in our district and it’s been an emotional last couple of weeks for all of our staff members, because they care for each other,” said Foucault. “That’s what we want — strong, passionate, caring staff — and that’s what we have.”

The next Joint Governance Meeting between these three entities is scheduled for Aug. 30.

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