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School budget begins to reflect Willmar Community Education & Recreation breakup

Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools could be paying more for its community education program in the next year.

In the coming months, the city of Willmar and the school district will be splitting Willmar Community Education and Recreation, a joint school/city effort, into two separate departments. The city recreation and school community education programs have been joined for nearly two decades.

In the spring, the School Board decided to go its own way after City Council questions delayed hiring a new director for the department. School Board members said they needed to move ahead with hiring a director to succeed current Director Steve Brisendine, who retires at the end of this week.

During a discussion of the district's 2018-19 fiscal year budget, Director of Business and Finance Pam Harrington said expenses are likely to change.

The School Board adopted the new budget at a special meeting Monday. State law requires it be approved before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget for the Community Education Program projects decreased revenue and expenses. Harrington said her staff would be watching expenditures closely.

The school district will no longer be collecting reimbursement from the city for the director's salary or for the costs of programs, she said. In addition, a Safe Routes to School grant will be ending. On the expense side, the school district will not have expenses related to the joint department.

In response to a question from board member Scott Thaden, Harrington said, "It is going to cost us money in certain ways. If we're hiring a full-time director, in the past we shared that with the city, so right away that's going to cost us some money."

The school district will continue to provide a number of programs, including Adult Basic Education and Early Childhood Education programs.

"As we break off, we will see what things are going to happen," Harrington said. "There are pieces that could cost us money, and there's things we won't do anymore."

The overall 2018-19 budget projects a steady budget, with general fund revenue of $55.7 million, an increase of less than 1 percent. The general fund pays for most day-to-day operations.

The majority of general fund revenue comes from the state. State revenue is expected to be $47.8 milion, an increase of $1.6 million. Local and federal revenue are expected to decrease about 12 percent each.

Expenses are expected to increase 5 percent, to $56.2 million. The budget includes salary and benefits changes based on agreements with nearly all employee bargaining groups.

The district was able to add some teaching positions for the next school year, Harrington said — in social studies, early childhood, math, science, reading, physical education and elementary education.

Superintendent Jeff Holm said there could be other teachers added before school starts, depending on enrollment and student needs.

Enrollment is expected to remain fairly steady for the coming year, with a slight increase projected. The district has about 4,125 students.

The district has an undesignated general fund balance of $12.35 million, expected to fall about $1.5 million over the next year.

The food service budget also remained steady, with a revenue decrease of less than 1 percent, to $3.3 million. Expenses also decreased by less than 1 percent.

Harrington said the district's elementary schools have received grants for years to provide fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks for elementary students. For the coming year, though, Lakeland and Kennedy qualified, while Roosevelt did not. Schools that apply are ranked according to the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

For now, the district plans to provide the snacks at all three schools, Harrington said, but it's not clear if the program can be maintained long-term with less grant money.

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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