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NLS approves preliminary budget

NEW LONDON -- Even though a negotiated education bill that's expected to be approved in a special legislative session would give K-12 schools a 2 percent increase in the general education formula, the New London-Spicer School District stuck with ...

NEW LONDON - Even though a negotiated education bill that’s expected to be approved in a special legislative session would give K-12 schools a 2 percent increase in the general education formula, the New London-Spicer School District stuck with its original plans and approved a preliminary budget based on a 1.5 percent state formula increase.
The board took the action Monday after hearing from Sen. Lyle Koenen and Rep. Dave Baker about the education bill, which legislators could vote on yet this week if details for the special session are finalized.
Superintendent Paul Carlson said it was encouraging to hear from legislators that the per-pupil funding formula would be higher than what the district is budgeting for the 2015-16 school year.
With talk early in the session that the increase might be only 1 percent each year, Carlson said the board stepped out on a limb creating a preliminary budget with a 1.5 percent increase.
The 2 percent increase will generate about $300,000 a year in additional revenue from what the district currently receives.
Some of that money may be used to provide more funding for preschool programs, Carlson said.
NLS currently has four different preschool programs that are funded with a combination of local general fund money, scholarships and parental fees.
Carlson said NLS funded all-day-every-day kindergarten for many years before the state agreed to fund it, and he said NLS will likely do the same with preschool programs.
Gov. Mark Dayton had proposed universal preschool education programs but that was dismissed during the legislative negotiations.
The additional funding formula could also boost the district’s slim unreserved fund balance.
At this point the district’s $12.1 million general education budget could have an unreserved fund balance of nearly $500,000 by next year.
That’s an increase of $105,000 from this year.
“It’s still very tight,” said Carlson, adding that there are still unknown budget factors, such as teacher negotiations that have to be settled, that could affect the fund balance. Another item in the education bill would increase the capital facilities formula.
Carlson said that formula has not been increased for at least a decade and that new revenue will help the district address deferred maintenance work on school properties.
Carlson said the board also asked legislators to pursue a proposal that would give small school districts, such as NLS, the same authority large districts have to levy for capital improvements projects without getting voter approval.
The board also encouraged Koenen and Baker to consider legislation to allow some classes, such as robotics, to satisfy state class requirements.
Carlson said the current mandates make it difficult for students to pursue academic interests and still complete required course assignments.
Carlson said the education bill that will be considered in the special session will allow schools to start before Labor Day this year and next year.
NLS had decided early on to start classes on Sept. 1 this fall even without legislative approval.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONSPICER
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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