Northfield Public Schools is projecting a $1.9 million deficit for the 2021-22 fiscal year, a shortfall expected to lead to budget cuts in the coming months.

In a move supported by the School Board, Finance Director Val Mertesdorf postponed the formal budget reduction process until next year because the state will have completed its biennial budget, which is expected to provide clarity for Northfield Public Schools, a district that receives 70% of its funding from the state. Delaying any budget reduction decisions also allows Northfield Public Schools to update its strategic plan to accommodate any future opportunities brought on by distance learning and enables more robust community participation.

“We will also know if we receive any additional stabilization funding from the state and/or federal government,” she noted. “Considering the impact of COVID-19 on our staff, parents and students, using our fund balance to maintain existing programming can provide a sense of stability that has not been the norm during the pandemic.”

The district continues to face revenue losses brought on by the pandemic and attempts to control its spread. Northfield Public Schools won’t receive approximately $440,000 in previously anticipated revenue this school year after early 70 students opted not to enroll due in part to concerns about COVID-19. Of the 67 students who chose not to attend school during the school year, slightly more than half (34) were entering kindergarten and decided to wait until the pandemic slows. Also, the district is grappling with the potential revenue decline caused by fewer families completing free and reduced-price lunch program applications and the possibility of a negative state budget forecast.

Northfield Public Schools finished the 2019-20 fiscal year with a $1 million surplus, an amount expected to help administrators adopt a more proactive approach to combat the shortfall. Mertesdorf noted Northfield Public Schools still has a 18.69% in unassigned reserves, above the 16% goal the School Board has set. However, Northfield Public Schools is anticipating to end the 2021-22 fiscal year at a 14.21% in reserve.

“Our culture of stewardship has given our district a sense of financial stability that is not commonplace among school districts during the pandemic,” she said. “We have operated from a position of strength.”

Though the district decreased expenditures for the 2020-21 fiscal year by $653,341 to accommodate declining enrollment, substitute teacher and staff costs, utilities and transportation expenses, Mertesdorf noted those reductions are harder to make this year because staff can now work from classrooms and buildings are open. Still, a relatively warm December has reduced heating costs.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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