Education Corner...Cloquet schools are off to a great start but face challengesOur school board has passed a resolution authorizing a levy that would bring in up to $300 per pupil in state aid and local taxes.
By: Superintendent Ken Scarbrough, Pine Journal
We all are excited about the start of another school year. We see our students coming back to school, and those of us working in the schools are most honored to be able to affect the lives of so many young children and young adults. Early numbers show that Cloquet student enrollment is increasing once again. We are proud to be entrusted with the education of more students, and we will continue our record of educational excellence.
All of our students, parents and citizens have an important educational mission, but there are two very important challenges we are facing that will impact what we are able to continue offering our students. The number of students we are enrolling is fantastic, but we are running out of space, and our middle school is really old. Secondly, state and federal funding plans have not kept up with inflation, and our school district is implementing a budget this year that is projected to spend more than a million dollars over what we take in for general fund revenues.
We are working with experienced architects and engineers to assess the needs of our facilities and how to best address those needs. We had to remove our Kids’ Corner program from our schools last year in order to make room for students, but that is only a short-term fix for our growing student population. We need more classrooms and other spaces for students, and we need many building upgrades. Many of you have talked to us about the need to do something with our middle school. The original 1920 building and subsequent additions require millions of dollars in upgrades and repairs, or we need a new middle school.
Our building needs go beyond middle school, however, and it is the District’s responsibility to let our community know what these needs are and to allow our public input as how to best meet these needs. Over the next months, we will continue our facilities study. One of the most important parts of this study will be to find out what our community wants to see done. Very soon, we will be sending out notices regarding facility meetings to inform our citizens and get their input. Our final plan will be made stronger, as we have more interaction with our community about this important educational need.
Next, I want to talk about our deficit.
Fortunately, when the federal government gave school districts “stimulus” money at the beginning of the last recession, our enrollment was increasing, and we were able to use that stimulus money to pay for some of the current expenditures. This combination of factors was one reason that our year-end fund balance grew. This was a good thing, because last school year we spent more than we had in revenues, and this year we are expecting to spend over a million dollars more than we will get in revenues. This is a trend that cannot continue, or we could very easily find ourselves in statutory operating debt, with a large year-end negative fund balance.
Fortunately, the state has three new revenue streams in place — not for this school year — but for the 2014-2015 school year. Next year, the state will fund all-day kindergarten. Since we already have been paying for that program without full funding, that legislation will be a big help for us. Second, the legislature will give schools Cloquet’s size something called Location Equity Revenue. This revenue eliminates our current $97/pupil referendum and replaces it with a more equalized tax (more state aid) and increases revenue by an additional $114 per pupil as well. Finally, the state has allowed school boards to levy up to a $300 per pupil referendum, again at a more equalized rate than the current referendum.
Our school board has passed a resolution authorizing a levy that would bring in up to $300 per pupil in state aid and local taxes. If the board decides to levy that full amount, the levy and the equity funding will increase taxes on a $100,000 home just over $5 per month. On a positive note, that would increase our school district revenue by just over a million dollars and give us a chance to erase our deficit. Without that revenue, we would definitely have to look at major cuts to our educational programing. Class sizes would probably increase substantially, and programs such as our new vocational education initiative would be in jeopardy.
As we see our students’ eagerness to start a new school year and experience all that has to offer, we also see challenges, especially with our buildings and our budget. However, next year looks brighter for our budget, and we can rely on quality input from our community to help us solve our facility issues.
Quality educational opportunities and excellent performance will continue in Cloquet. Together, we can make that happen.