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Willmar School Board balances budget for the first time in years

WILLMAR — For the first time in several years, the Willmar School Board has adopted a budget that projects no deficit spending.

The board adopted the fiscal year 2017 budget, which covers the 2016-17 school year, at its meeting this week. It was the board’s last meeting before July 1, the start of the fiscal year. The state requires that school districts adopt budgets before the fiscal year begins.

On the strength of nearly $2 million in cuts adopted this spring and some additional state revenue, the district is projecting that general fund revenue will exceed expenditures in the coming year, Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington told the board.

In recent years, the board has taken money from its undesignated fund balance to help pay for implementing new academic programs and starting Professional Learning Communities for teachers at each school building.

The increase in revenue comes from increases in some state aid categories and a small increase in enrollment.

The 2016 Legislature also approved funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten education. School districts must apply for that money, and a decision will be made later this summer.

Because there are many unknowns when districts adopt their budgets for the next year, most schools adopt a revised budget midway through the year. The revised budgets take into account grants that are awarded after the year starts and also look at changes in enrollment and expenses.

“What we really wanted to do was to get to a balanced budget for 2016-17, so you can see that that is happening now,” Harrington said. “We are not overspending our revenues.”

The district just broke ground for a new elementary school, part of a building project that will affect every school in the district. The goal was to balance the budget and maintain a healthy fund balance to handle unexpected expenses associated with the new school and other projects.

The bond funding approved by voters includes money to furnish and equip the school, but costs for utilities, transportation, staffing and other expenses are only estimated at this point.

“Given the fact that we’ve done these budget reductions ... and what we know right now, the district may not need to make reductions” for the 2017-18 school year, she said.

However, she cautioned that a number of factors could change the prediction. The district’s teachers have not settled their last contract yet, the 2017 legislative session could cause changes in school funding or enrollment could change.

General fund revenue for the coming year is projected at $50.3 million, an increase of $1.5 million. The general fund pays for daily operations of the school district.

General fund expenditures are projected to be $49.7 million, a decrease of about $300,000. Salary, benefits and other expenses would have increased if not for the budget cuts, she said.

The undesignated fund balance for the district is projected to be $6.6 million at the end of the 2016-17 budget year, Harrington said. That’s about 13.3 percent of expenditures.

Harrington also reviewed the Food Service and Community Education budgets.

The Food Service revenue is expected to increase, because the federal government is providing more funding for commodities. Expenditures are expected to increase. In addition to the salaries and food purchases, the department will use reserve funds to add a needed warehouse cooler/freezer at the new elementary school, replacing one now at the Middle School.

The department projects revenue of $3.1 million and expenditures of $3.4 million.

In Community Education, revenue fell about $130,000 because a federal grant ended. Expenses fell about $19,000. The changes are due to changes in state programs and filling an unfilled position.

Community Education projects $3.1 million in revenue and expenditures of $3 million.


Kids help with Willmar elementary school groundbreaking

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

(320) 214-4340