by Mike Knaak
State funds, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and unusually uncertain enrollment projections complicate planning for next year’s Sartell-St. Stephen school district budget.
Director of Business Services Joe Prom and Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert outlined the possible issues at a Feb. 3 school board work session.
This is a funding year for the Legislature and for the past several sessions, the state funding formula has increased about 2 percent per year. The governor and Legislature have just started negotiating a budget, but Prom told members to expect less than a 2 percent funding increase.
“Don’t expect new funding from the state,” Prom said.
But, Prom said, the district expects to receive additional COVID-19 federal money that would be like adding 1 percent to the funding formula.
Prom and Schwiebert said there are no plans to either add or reduce teaching positions next year.
State funding and expenses are directly tied to enrollment. Schwiebert said predicting kindergarten and first-grade enrollments will be the biggest struggle.
Right now, Schwiebert said the kindergarten enrollment could be in the 260- to 280-student range. Kindergarten enrollment dropped from 311 students at the end of last year to 252 students as of January. Some parents may have held students back because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The district predicts class sizes in the 22-23 range from kindergarten through second grade with kindergarten classes closer to 21 students.
Prom said administrators hope to lock in the number of teacher positions for each building by the end of February and be done with the budget by May.
Prom also updated the board on COVID-19 funding and expenses. The district received a total of $1.6 million from federal, state and county grants. The largest grant, $977,046, came from the state of Minnesota.
The district spent the money to safely conduct class during the pandemic. The money supported buying personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Technology expenses for computers and mobile hot spots helped teachers and students carry out distance learning. Funds paid for additional staff time and professional development to prepare for different learning models. The district added bus routes to ensure proper social distancing and to drop off meals during distance learning.
The next board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, at the high school.