Officials in the Cloquet School District estimate the district will have a $411,605 deficit for the 2020-21 school year, according to the preliminary budget approved at the school board's Monday, June 8, meeting.

The preliminary budget is based on the assumption that all of their students will be back in school in the fall, said Candace Nelis, Cloquet School District business manager.

The overall deficit is expected to be about $1.2 million, according to budget documents. A total of $411,605 of the projected shortfall is in the district's general fund, which covers day-to-day expenses including salaries and benefits, supplies and transportation. The remainder of the costs are for expenses officials saved for in advance, said Superintendent Michael Cary.

He said the projected deficit looks worse than it is at first glance.

“We always err on the high side, or worst-case scenario,” Cary said. “We really do not anticipate a $411,605 deficit.”

The school district closed the gap on the 2019-20 deficit during the year, and Cary said he expects 2020-21 to be similar.

With $43.8 million in projected revenue and $44.9 million in proposed expenditures, Cary said the district's total expenditures can vary during the course of the school year, depending on how many employees retire. The district has received retirement letters from 24 staff members this spring.

The district has $15.1 million in its unassigned fund, which would be used to cover the deficit.

Nelis said the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will help with the financial burden created by COVID-19. The fund will help pay for technology such as iPads and internet access that became necessary with distance learning.

Officials spent about $17,000 for wireless hotspots to provide internet to students who did not have access, Cary said. They estimate they will spend $70,000 for iPads in 2020-21 for elementary students in case there needs to be distance learning in the future, or if the district implements a hybrid model where students rotate between classroom instruction and distance learning.

The CARES Act will also cover summer school and mental health services, Nelis said, but the overall total Cloquet Schools will receive from the CARES Act has yet to be determined.

“They provide a total dollar amount to each district,” Nelis said. “Some of the funding is based on how the governor decides to split the money. Some of the funding is based on our Title I allocations.”

Cloquet officials can apply for federal CARES Act relief starting in July, she said.

District officials will provide a mid-year budget update to the board in January.