Kjergaard wants to talk with other school bosses
WILLMAR -- Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard is inviting other superintendents in the area to get together to talk about school finances and the future.
Kjergaard said this week he's not sure what will come of the meeting, but he feels it is important to share ideas. No date for the meeting has been set.
Willmar is looking at cutting $2 million from its 2010-11 school year budget. Other districts in the area are also looking at cuts.
Kjergaard said he's not sure what the impact of the state's budget problems will be, but he believes it's important to look at possibilities for the future.
The state's projected budget deficits have the potential to affect school districts in a number of ways in the coming year.
The districts started this year knowing that they would have to wait until the next fiscal year to receive 27 percent of their 2009-10 aid payments. The state has routinely paid 90 percent of planned state aid during a fiscal year. The last 10 percent has been sent in the following fiscal year, when it can be adjusted to reflect enrollment fluctuations.
The state has withheld payments, commonly called a shift, before, but it is usually done through the Legislature.
This time, the 27 percent was withheld by order of Gov. Tim Pawlenty. There is no provision in state law to ensure that the last 27 percent of this year's funding will be forwarded to districts next fall.
Last week, the state announced that aid payments for two-thirds of Minnesota schools will be withheld in March and April. The state Department of Education has promised to send the payments by May 30, but some districts could need to borrow money to maintain their cash flow while they wait for the payments.
The state removed $500 million from education funding and filled that gap with federal economic stimulus funding. However, the stimulus is one-time funding and school officials are concerned that the state won't be able to replace the stimulus money when it is gone. In Willmar's case, that could be a loss of $2.5 million a year.
The financial picture for school districts isn't going to get any better, Kjergaard said, and it's possible it could lead to state-imposed changes, maybe even restructuring.
"There has to be something we can do before they do it to us, so we have a choice," he said.
Kjergaard has some ideas for how districts might work together and maintain their identities. He expects that other school leaders will have some, too.
"I don't know what will happen; I just know we need to do something," he said. "We should see if there's stuff we can do to still run strong schools that can meet the needs of our kids and our communities."