Local schools are facing a variety of projected budgets for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, with the Cloquet School District currently projecting a $385,262 budget deficit for the unassigned general fund balance, while the Esko School District is expecting to see a positive unassigned general fund balance of approximately $2.7 million.

According to Cloquet Superintendent Michael Cary, it is normal for the district to see a projected deficit. When creating the budget, school officials often underestimate incoming revenue and overestimate expenses.

“We know that in most years, because of how we project our expenses and revenues … we’re usually estimating a worst case scenario there," Cary said. “It’s very likely that when we hit mid-year, that number will be significantly smaller.”

However, if the budget is not looking more balanced by the mid-year review, then Cary said some cost-saving measures may be taken, although he doesn't foresee any major budget issues.

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“We’re usually pretty comfortable," he said, adding that in past years, the district has projected a large deficit, which was then reduced significantly by mid-year.

Esko is also expected to see a change, according to Superintendent Aaron Fischer, who said factors like ongoing teacher contract negotiations and the legislative session will likely change the school's funds.

“We do our best to estimate," Fischer said.

Cary echoed this idea, citing pending faculty retirements as one factor.

Teachers who are looking to retire are typically at the top of the pay scale, while incoming teachers are not, he said. Without knowing how many teachers will be retiring in the upcoming fiscal year, Cary said it is impossible to predict how teacher salaries will impact the budget.

Both the Esko and Cloquet school boards approved their respective projected budgets on Monday, June 14.

In addition to the budget, the Esko board also approved the transfer of $25,000 from the unassigned general fund and $50,000 from the Early Childhood Family Education fund to the Esko Community Education program to help offset the costs of free child care provided during the COVID-19 pandemic. These costs were already factored into the projected budget.