Although state funding for education increased more than many school officials had anticipated, the St. Louis Park School District did not expect any classroom changes in the new school year as a result.
The Legislature pushed the issue to the end of June, the same fiscal year school districts use. The final legislation included a 2.45% increase in the education formula for the new fiscal year and 2% for the 2022-23 school year.
As a result of the timing, St. Louis Park education officials moved forward with a budget based on expectations for a 1% increase in state funding for the 2021-22 school year.
The higher level of state funding will provide $460,000 more than the district had projected for the new fiscal year, according to Director of Business Services Patricia Magnuson. The amount means that the per pupil state aid will increase to $6,728 instead of $6,632 under the district’s projection.
The district also will receive small increases for special education and English-language learners.
Reacting to the legislative deal, Magnuson told St. Louis Park School Board members before they approved the 2021-22 budget, “We’re very thankful for those results. It’s not going to solve our problems in this district or across the state for education funding deficits. But we are thankful for the increase in recognition that school funding is important, even in a year of a pandemic.”
In making budget reductions for the new fiscal year, Magnuson said district planners avoided making spending reductions that would be restored if more funds became available.
“We made reductions across each site and department for the non-staffing-related budgets with no intention of restoring those,” Magnuson said. “Those were reductions that we thought were appropriate in tight fiscal times.”
The district also moved to “right-size our staffing to align with our predictions about enrollment,” Magnuson said.
Amid a decline in enrollment, she characterized the staffing reductions as separate from budget cuts.
“If we would add those back, those would actually be additions to the budget because we’d be reducing class size,” Magnuson explained.
The fall enrollment numbers will be just as significant to the district’s finances as the special session results, she said.
Magnuson expressed optimism that the size of the kindergarten class would grow beyond the projection, helping the district’s funding.
Reflecting on the higher-than-projected state funding, Magnuson said, “We’re going to be continuing to reduce our future funding gap, and we might begin to address some of that in a major budget update but for sure as we build next year’s budget.”
The district has projected a funding gap in the future of between $4 million and $6 million. The budget for the new fiscal year included a deficit of nearly $1.5 million, with spending from district reserves. However, Magnuson said that budget hides the problem due to one-time funding, such as about $1 million in federal funding built into it along with a transfer that Magnuson said “is not an unending pot of money.”
Of the funds available to the district, Magnuson said, “We should be spending that strategically and in the right places that get us good outcomes for kids.”
Spending that does not help reach that goal can be trimmed away, she suggested.
This fall, the district will study the issues further in preparation for setting the levy for taxpayers.
The board finalized the budget for the 2021-22 school year unanimously June 28.
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