Willmar School Board adopts budget at time of uncertainty

The Willmar School Board has adopted a 2020-21 school year budget that plans for a normal school year and is likely to be adjusted as more is known about the effects of the global pandemic.


WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board has adopted a budget for the 2020-21 school year that prepares the district for a mostly normal school year, even though it most likely won’t be one.

School buildings in Minnesota closed in mid-March, and students and teachers finished the school year through distance learning.

The board on Monday approved a general fund budget with $61.5 million in revenue and $62.5 million in expenses. The general fund balance is currently about $13.6 million and is expected to be about $1 million smaller a year from now.

The board conducted the meeting via Zoom video conferencing software. A recording of the meeting is available on the district’s website,, under “School Board.”

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington, in her last meeting with the district, told the board that school districts face many unknowns because of the global coronavirus pandemic.


School boards are required to adopt annual budgets before the fiscal year ends June 30. Because many details about state and federal grants are not clear then, the budget is usually revised in the following winter or spring.

Due to the pandemic, planning for a normal year gives the district a place to start. In a budget memo to the board, Harrington wrote, “The budget will need to be reviewed and adjusted as guidance and answers to questions become available.”

The budget projects an average enrollment of 4,251 students, an increase of about 20 over the previous school year.

“I would be extra careful watching the numbers this summer,” Harrington said. While she doesn’t expect big changes in enrollment, she added, it’s important to be observant. Enrollment numbers drive a majority of state aid for schools.

Parts of the 2019-20 budget were thrown into disarray when school buildings closed in mid-March because of the pandemic, and that could continue into the next school year.

Local revenues were reduced when activities were canceled, costing the district the participation fees and event admissions it collects. Local revenue is projected to increase $94,000 in 2020-21.

State revenue is projected to increase 2% for the 2020-21 school year, but Harrington warned the board to watch what happens in the Legislature’s special session which is expected this summer.

The Food Service Fund saw a number of changes after March. Revenue was lost because students were no longer buying lunch at school. Some of that was made up by a $75,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. The fund purchased food for delivering free meals to students, delivered by school buses.


The Community Service Fund, also known as Community Education, saw its revenue fall as many of its revenue-producing programs shut down. Instead, it has been providing child care for essential workers at no cost, another hit to revenue.

Harrington recently learned that the district will receive $1 million through the federal CARES Act, but she is waiting for more information about how to apply for it. The money is intended to help with extra costs associated with the pandemic.

She said the district may have to use its undesignated general fund balance to fill some budget holes. That’s why a proposed addition at Willmar Middle School using the fund balance has been delayed.

Even though the fund balance may shrink in the coming year, “It’s still a really good place to be,” Harrington said.

Board members praised Harrington, who has been with the district for longer than a decade.

“You have always been a steady hand,” said Board Chairman Mike Reynolds. She always took a conservative approach to budgeting, he said, and “as it’s proving out, I think that’s the best approach to take.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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