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Willmar, Minn., School Board approves $47 million budget for coming school year

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board approved a budget for the 2013-14 school year with projected general fund spending of $47.4 million.

The budget covers fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington spent much of her presentation at Monday's board meeting explaining changes in school finance made by the 2013 Legislature.

Some changes will go into effect with fiscal 2014, and many more will go into effect next year.

The budget includes $45,667,460 in general fund revenue and $47,379,232 in general fund expenditures. Day-to-day operating expenses of the district are paid by the general fund.

Schools will see a 1.5 percent increase in their basic state aid this year and another 1.5 percent in the year after.

In fiscal 2015, schools will receive additional aid to pay for all day, every day kindergarten classes. "All day, every day kindergarten is the biggest deal of fiscal year 15," she said.

Also in 2015 and beyond, districts will see changes in how they are compensated for special education services. Integration aid, which was in danger of being eliminated, will continue with some changes.

Enrollment is projected to increase to 4,200 students in the coming year, 100 kids more than this year. The enrollment increase adds nearly $500,000 in state aid for the district.

The district's enrollment has grown from new students registering for school and because incoming kindergarten classes are larger than recent graduating classes, she said.

In all, Willmar will receive an additional $1,277,656 in state aid because of new legislation and added students. Revenue is expected to increase about $1.4 million over last year.

In addition to more state aid, the district recently received several federal grants, Harrington said. A $600,000 School Improvement Grant for Kennedy Elementary and grants to provide daily snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables will go to Kennedy and Roosevelt Elementary.

Expenses are expected to increase about $2.5 million as the district implements school turnaround plans to close achievement gaps in the elementary schools.

Harrington said the budget includes some intentional spending of the unreserved general fund balance, which is about 14 percent of annual expenses.

State law requires school districts to approve a new budget before the fiscal year starts, but not all funding is known yet. Most school districts review their budget at mid-year to update information about income and expenses.

The Legislature decided to allow school boards to adopt a $300 operating levy without seeking board approval. If they have a voter-approved levy, they can convert $300 to a board-approved levy.

"It gives them a stable funding source," she said, but not all the details are available yet. "We are still waiting for the numbers."

The board also approved budgets for the food service, community education and debt service accounts, which are held separately from the general fund.

With all the funds combined, the district projects total revenue of $53,512,302.71 in the coming year and total expenditures of $55,456,709.28.

In other business, the board approved capital projects for the summer, including work in the kitchen in Kennedy Elementary and roofs at the Senior High, Garfield and WEAC. A planned remodeling of Middle School science rooms was delayed because bids were over budget.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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