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BEA board studies possible cuts

By Staff | Apr 7, 2019

Interim superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen discusses the possible budget cuts.

It only took a few moments to get the Blue Earth Area School Board special meeting up, running, and approving the superintendent contract for Mandy Fletcher.

A motion to accept the contract was made last Monday, April 1, by Sara Hauskins, and seconded by Kyle Zierke with no opposition, and no further discussion on the matter.

The three year contract calls for a salary of $133,000 for the 2019-20 year, $134,995 for the 2020-21 year and $137,020 for the 2021-22 year, plus benefits.

For the rest of the meeting, the board considered a multitude of options for trimming the 2019-20 budget for the BEA School District.

According to acting superintendent Jerry Jensen, the finance committee met the previous Thursday to discuss the upcoming school year’s budget. With a number of BEA teachers and administration present, the board went into a deep discussion on the issues concerning the budget.

Jensen said he would be meeting with both the elementary building staff and the high school building staff throughout the week to get their input on how to save some dollars for the district.

Last month Jensen and fiscal services coordinator Alan Wilhelmi met to discuss a revised General Fund budget.

After it was revised, the budget still faces a fairly sizable deficit of $801,127.13, which is down from what the board originally looked at prior to the revisions.

Jensen spoke not only on budget reduction, but potential revenues as well.

“One of the ways you can do budget adjustments is cost expenditures; the other way is to increase your revenues,” said Jensen. “A lot of the revenue side, of course, is contingent upon the Legislature and what they do in terms of adding to the per pupil funding formula or how they fund special education. Those would be two main components I think we may be able to expect some revenue for next year. We calculated two percent.”

Jensen stated the House has come out with their targets at $900 million, which was quite large, and he stated in their program, they had a three percent increase on the first year of their formula, and a two percent increase on the second year.

The senate came out with their formula as well, according to Jensen, and was a lot smaller citing a one percent increase for the first year, and no increase for the second year.

“Obviously, there is nothing for certain. When I was at the Capitol representing you a week ago, some of the legislators sounded very optimistic for school funding, while others did not,” said Jensen. “We are thinking that two percent is safe, so we used that in our formula. All together, we are thinking of a $200,000 increase in revenue, which are maybe some realistic numbers for us to look at.”

Jensen then stated it would be more than likely the district would be needing to go to the public for additional revenue in the form of a referendum.

“Even though we vote for a referendum in November, and if the community steps up to the plate and decides they want to fund the school with some additional tax dollars, that does not arrive until the 2020-21 year. So next year, regardless of what happens in November, there isn’t additional money coming in from a referendum.”

With no additional referendum dollars coming in, the deficit could grow to $1.2 million within the following year.

“You take that $800,000 deficit, move it into the next year and we have contract settlements and additional costs that get added to that,” said Jensen. “If we don’t do anything, we are looking at $1.2 million. If we look at purchasing three buses instead of one bus, we’re looking at $1.4 million, but I think we’ve already decided to not purchase more buses than we need. I think $1.2 million is a legitimate number.”

If the school were able to look at their expenditures and figure out ways to reduce their expenditures by approximately $500,000, coupled with the $200,000 revenue enhancement, Blue Earth Area School District would still be looking at a deficit of $500,000.

Jensen stated clearly that the number was picked arbitrarily.

“$500,000 was just an arbitrary number,” he said. “I just thought that would put you in a position where you could manage this. In the event where you are not successful with a referendum, that picture does not look so great. It would likely be another round of reductions you’d be facing next year.”

A list of primary and secondary considerations to budget reductions was then introduced in the meeting. The list was put together by the administration with consultations from multiple departments within the district and run through the finance committee.

The School Board first looked at the school’s enrollment numbers which, for each classroom, were within the upper teens to the lower 20s.

“Those are fantastic numbers for teachers, and a luxury at that for teaching, but when you have financial problems, they are not sustainable numbers and not realistic in terms of moving forward,” added Jensen.

He stated taking one section out of each grade could be beneficial toward the budget and a doable class size for teachers, citing many classrooms within the metro area are at or above 30 pupils per classroom.

“If you drop that many sections, that would obviously have an impact on staff,” said Jensen.

Other primary considerations included:

Reducing one first grade teacher (next year’s second grade) for a cost savings of $47,483,

Reducing one Title 1 teacher for a cost savings of $83,000,

Reducing 2.4 paras for a cost savings of $48,000,

Reducing, or not re-hiring the retired position, of one high school Phy Ed teacher for a cost savings of $68,000,

Cut Technology Integration position (.6) for a cost savings of $45,686,

Eliminate one bus route for a cost savings of $20,000,

Cut the Teachers On Call program for a cost savings of $15,000,

Cut MCA proctors for a cost savings of $9,000 and,

Cut tech coaches for a cost savings of $6,900.

The total savings to the school with the primary considerations would be $343,069.

Secondary considerations included reducing one fifth grade teacher (next year’s sixth grade) saving $55,847, reducing one third grade teacher (next year’s fourth grade) saving $47,483, reducing one sixth grade (next year’s seventh grade) saving $55,847, and reducing one section per level grades eight through 11 next year, saving $100,000, a total of $259,177 in savings for BEA.

The board discussed multiple possibilities and still has yet to make their final decision on the budget adjustments. They will be meeting on Monday, April 8, during their regular School Board meeting, and will make finalized budget adjustments on April 15, at 6 p.m.