BEMIDJI-After counting all the nickels and dimes they could find, the leadership of the Bemidji Area School District has a general idea of what it will have available to work with during the upcoming year.
The district's School Board approved a budget Monday night for the upcoming 2019-20 school year. The budget has projected revenues of $66.89 million and projected expenditures of $67.15 million, creating an expected deficit of $259,591. However, those numbers could change, depending on several unknown factors, such as student enrollment.
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz said while the numbers may not be what they hoped for, it's important to take the situation in stride. He pointed out that the expected deficit is a small fraction of the district's overall budget.
"I'm still optimistic; we're still healthy," Lutz said. "I never like it when we're in the red, but in order to maintain our strong programs in education and in extracurriculars and all the great things kids are exposed to, we have to hold the line without cutting too many things."
That projected deficit of $259,591 is the remaining total of the original deficit of approximately $1.3 million the district faced earlier. District leaders then began the process of cutting a number of expenses. Leading up to Monday's meeting, the School Board approved staffing reductions amounting to roughly $850,000.
The budget also takes into account the fact that the district could lose an estimated 60 students to a new charter school that is being established in Bemidji. The public school system receives funding for every student it has enrolled. Because of that, it could lose nearly $500,000 if 60 students left for the charter school. The loss of those students would be exacerbated by the fact that the school district still would be responsible for transporting those students to and from the classroom.
Nor did the school district get as much funding as hoped for from the state Legislature's two-year budget that was approved earlier in the year. Essentially, the Legislature approved a 2 percent increase for each of the next two years. Gov. Tim Walz originally advocated for a 3 percent hike for the first of the two years, only to have that effort fall short.
Lutz said the potential loss of students leaving for the new charter school could essentially negate the percentage increase they received through the Legislature's budget.
In spite of that, Lutz said the budget cycle essentially produced what they thought it would: a modest increase to help cover inflation.
"I'm not crushed because I didn't expect a whole lot, but I am disappointed," Lutz said. "We have to continue to keep an eye on our expenses and really be careful about being as efficient as we can."
If the projects outlined in the coming year's budget turn out to be accurate, the school district would pay for the deficit of $259,591 out of its reserves. The district typically has about two months worth of funding available in its reserves.