As the Faribault School Board discusses plans for a fall operating levy, one which would fund a seven-period day at Faribault High School, the budget plays a large role in the decision-making process.

At its Monday work session meeting, the School Board reviewed the district’s budget for fiscal year 2019, as well as the preliminary budget for 2020. Information was presented by District Financial Director Jennifer Walsh and Controller Shelly Kolling.

“I will tell you this budget for next year is a very tight budget,” Walsh said to the board.

The district spent $1.14 million more than it took in this past school year, forcing $1.9 million in budget cuts this spring.

One of the biggest contributors to spending it reserves, Walsh said, related to a large transfer to the district’s food service fund. A harsh winter resulted in other added expenses for snow removal and heating in the classrooms. Extra school days tacked onto the school calendar to make up for weather cancellations also cost the district thousands of dollars.

Decreased enrollment presents another financial challenge for the district. Sesker said enrollment in Faribault Schools decreased by about 80 students this past year, mostly because the kindergarten classes have fewer students than the graduating classes. Since the district receives state aid for every student enrolled, Faribault Schools takes a financial hit with the decreased enrollment.

According to Walsh, the district’s enrollment projections for 2018-19 were accurate. But if the district continues to lose students, Walsh anticipates another $2 million in budget cuts for fiscal year 2021.

Continuously dipping into reserves is a bad long-term strategy, which is why the School Board has discussed adding a second question to the November ballot, one that would offset the balance of deficit spending.

The School Board hasn’t set an official total for the proposed operating levy, but Superintendent Todd Sesker projects the district needs about $835,000 to implement the seven-period day at the high school, resulting in a tax impact of $65 per year for a $175,000 home. In addition, he said the district needs close to $450,000 to help offset deficit spending as a result of decreased enrollment. With both these items on the ballot, the tax impact is about $95 per year for the average Faribault area homeowner.

Whether the School Board decides on two questions or one on the November ballot, Sesker said he wants to keep the tax impact below the $100 mark. Board member Jason Engbrecht agreed that community support quickly declines if the tax impact exceeds $100 annually.

Sesker said implementing a seven-period day at FHS is the highest priority. He bases his opinion on the results of a survey that determined the tax tolerance in the community, a Thought Exchange communication that showed positive feedback for a seven-period day, and staff input. After hearing Walsh’s budget presentation, he thinks stopping deficit spending and maintaining a low student-teacher ratio also rank high on the district’s priority list.

Students at FHS struggle to squeeze desired electives like music classes and languages into their six-period schedules and often take summer classes as a result. It’s believed within the district that students open enroll elsewhere because other districts provide them more flexibility with scheduling, which adds to the Faribault District’s decreased enrollment and results in financial strains. Board member Yvette Marthaler mentioned that if the seven-period day question passes, the district “can at least decrease the loss of students a little bit.”

At the next School Board meeting Monday, June 24, Sesker plans to present referendum options to the board. A vote on the referendum question(s) and total request is expected in July.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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