OWATONNA — Owatonna’s school board was briefed on the district’s preliminary budget for 2019-2020 during a work session earlier this week.
That preliminary budget, which the board will be asked to approve at its next meeting (June 24) calls for deficit spending in the general fund of roughly $2 million in fiscal year 2020, said Amanda Heilman, the district’s director of finance. In fiscal year 2020, the general fund is predicted to have revenues of $61,958,078 compared with expenditures of $64,059,598.
Though revenues from the state of Minnesota — 83% of Owatonna’s general funding is derived from state sources — are slated to increase by 2% in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, expenditures are expected to increase each of those years by 3%, Heilman said. Even with $500,000 in planned expenditure reductions by the district for both fiscal year 2020 and 2021, “funding from the state is not keeping up with expenses,” which “leads us to a place where we have to deficit spend by about $2 million.”
State funding “isn’t keeping up with inflation,” so the gap continues to widen in school districts each year, said Jeff Elstad, Owatonna’s superintendent. Eventually, “we’ll have to renew our operating levy, plus,” in order to close that differential.
The district’s current operating levy expires June 30, 2021, and the fiscal year 2019 per pupil levy amount is $1,154.61, Heilman said. In Owatonna, “about 81% of our budget is spent on per pupil services.”
The preliminary budget for 2019-2020 lists $37,403,929 in salaries to employees, an increase from the final 2018-2019 budget of $1,744,593, said Sarah Cramblit, the district’s controller. The district is slated to spend $1,408,095 more on special education instruction in the preliminary 2019-2020 budget than in the final 2018-2019 budget, including “six additional positions to meet student needs.”
Special education also added five paraprofessionals, Heilman said. The costs for special education continue to rise precipitously “for everyone, not just out district,” as it’s “one of those areas severely underfunded statewide.”
Students are arriving at schools with more needs — at earlier ages — than ever before, Elstad said. Unfortunately, “the funding isn’t following that.”
The preliminary 2019-2020 budget also calls for a permanent transfer from the general fund to the community service fund of $5,000 for central enrollment, a method of online enrolling, Heilman said. The district started online enrollment for kindergarten this year, and it was so successful that “all of our enrollments will be online going forward.”
On Monday, the school board also received the annual report from Nutrition Services, delivered by Ali Diley, director of Nutrition Services for the district, and Sarah Brooks, Nutrition Services coordinator.
Nutrition Services includes roughly 45 employees and serves approximately 5,000 meals daily, which equals nearly 820,000 meals in a year, Diley said. Roughly 42% of the district’s students fall into the category of free/reduced-price lunches.
Offering second-chance breakfasts at Owatonna High School, Owatonna Middle School, and the ALC has been an unalloyed success, she said. Participation at OHS remains “as high as ever” a handful of years into the program, the ALC tripled participation in its second year, and “we went from 13% to 40% of students eating breakfast at” OMS.
Nutrition Services began serving after-school snacks — which complement enrichment activities — this spring at the ALC and middle school, as well, she said. Like all school meals, the after-school snacks are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
In addition, Nutrition Services continues to host dietetic interns during the school year, she said. This year, “we had two for three weeks” each, and “it’s like having a student teacher.”
Furthermore, Nutrition Services also “revamped” the wellness committee to reflect more wellness experience among members, performed a student health index, and collaborated with Hy-Vee on KidsFit assemblies in Owatonna’s elementary schools this spring, Brooks said. Additionally, procuring a wellness grant will allow for “family night” at the Owatonna farmer’s market this summer, providing youth a chance to sample and purchase nutritious, locally-grown food.
Incorporating more farm-to-school items remains a goal of the department, and Nutrition Services began purchasing from Medford’s Revol Greens this year, Diley said. In addition, “we’re starting to work with Good Acre,” a food hub in St. Paul, which “pools all the farmers food in one place so we don’t have to work with 20 different farmers.”
Nutrition Services has also made strides on the environmental front, she said. “We got rid of straws this year and reduced nearly all Styrofoam.”
Also this year, the district initiated “milk share tables,” where students who decline to drink their milk on a given day can return it for others, Brooks said. It attenuates waste, saving 5-20 milk cartons per day per school.
The department has also embarked upon an equipment maintenance plan to prevent malfunctions and avoid exorbitant costs, she said. “It helps us save in the long run.”
Nutrition Services continues to strive for better customer service, so employees will attend a training seminar this year, and Amanda Griswold will meet with staff members, as well, Diley said. Griswold, a social worker at Lincoln Elementary, will discuss “re-framing and redirecting behaviors in the cafeteria.”
The department managed successful Minnesota Department of Education reviews for the school year and summer meals program, “a very proud moment for us,” Brooks said. The summer meals program actually began Monday, and Nutrition Services fed roughly 180 students.
Participation has grown dramatically in recent years, with Owatonna Public Schools setting a new record for summer meals in 2018, serving more than 16,000 breakfasts and lunches, according to Diley. “It bridges a gap for families” who may rely on schools to provide one or two meals for children during the academic term.
Nutrition Services maintains an active Facebook presence, and the department added more vegetarian options this year for students, Brooks said. Those include cheese quesadilla, meatless sauce for pastas, and a new cheese tortellini pasta salad.
Scratch cooking remains a priority for Nutrition Services, and the department uses premier ingredients in meals, Diley said. “We always try to buy the highest quality we can.”