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Financial growth, stability shown in Esko’s district audit

Esko’s district audit revealed the district's unassigned general fund, or rainy-day fund balance, grew by 23%.

Esko Public Schools
Esko Public Schools in Esko, Minnesota. (2019 file / Cloquet Pine Journal)

It was good news for the Esko School District during the presentation of the fiscal year’s audit to the school board on Monday, Nov. 22. The audit, which was conducted by WIPFLI, showed the district had an increase in its general fund balance of over $700,000.

Esko Superintendent Aaron Fischer said the district is in a good place financially after the audit presentation.

“I thought the audit came back in a very positive way,” Fischer said. “We had some fund balance growth with what the auditor said today would be appropriate for the size of growth in our revenues and expenditures.”

With the increase in the district’s general fund balance, the district’s unassigned fund balance, or rainy-day funds, increased from $2.47 million to $3.04 million, which is a 23% increase.

The board was pleased with increase in resident students, with the average daily membership for resident students growing, despite enrollment dropping slightly from 1,274 last year to 1,266 in 2021.

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After reviewing the audit, Fischer said the auditor pulled incorrect enrollment data for June 2021, and while the number of resident students grew, it was not by as much as reflected in the audit.
“That is a big change for us … you are seeing our open enrollment decline, that’s because we have more locals,” Fischer said. “That is a more stable population in the long run.”

The slight decrease in enrollment was due to the fact some parents chose pull their children out of school for different reasons.

"Because of COVID-19 a couple (families) chose not to come to school and be homeschooled or attend online," he said.

Despite the slightly smaller growth than originally presented in the audit, Fischer said it is still a stable and healthy sign for the district.

Newly-appointed board Chairperson Jerry Frederick agreed with Fischer that resident enrollment is important for the district.

“It is good to hear enrollment numbers are up from the local community,” he said. “If you look in the long run that will certainly help the district stabilize.”

There is just under $190,000 left in the district’s building construction fund balance, which is the remainder of the abatement bond money. Two planned parking lots were removed from the district’s plan two years ago as they await contamination cleanup from the federal Superfund plan.

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“We have good news on the revenue side and good news on the expenditures side, so we are sitting in a good spot,” Fischer said.

Board member Todd Rengo told the rest of the board there wasn’t much to discuss after hearing where the district currently is financially.

“We are at a pretty good spot financially, budget’s balance is increased, the audit went really well, which gives us some flexibility on spending going forward, which is fabulous,” he said.

During the regular meeting, the board members also decided on new leadership positions after the resignation of Jeff Salo as board chairperson during their previous meeting.

Frederick was chosen as the new chair, with Rengo appointed as the vice chair and Steve McConnell as clerk.

They will remain in those positions until the board’s organizational meeting in January.

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