School board members held a special meeting Thursday morning to direct district administrators to find ways to address a projected $4 million budget shortfall for the 2014-2015 school year. A list of adjustments will be brought to the board for approval at the regular business meeting on March 13. The list is expected to include about $1.6 million in one-time funding delays and shifts, and another $2.6 million in ongoing budget adjustments.
“It’s a tough conversation for staff and community, especially so soon after a levy,” said Tom Lehmann, school board chair. “These budget challenges are not a surprise. Even as we developed our levy proposal and went out to the community with our request we anticipated that further reductions would be necessary. We have said many times that the levy would help, but would not solve all of our budget challenges. The reality is we can’t do what we’ve always done, nor should we.”
Despite passage of the levy in November the district faces an ongoing budget shortfall. District leaders intentionally spent down the fund balance and have been deficit spending since the 2010-2011 school year. At the same time, enrollment has declined and state funding has changed to make it more difficult to raise funds locally. Rising operational expenses - such as employee costs, fuel, and property insurance – further add to the shortfall. All of these factors mean the district can no longer sustain all of its existing programs and staff.
To address the long-term issue, the school board is committed to making necessary budget adjustments in order to create a balanced budget. Building a balanced budget will require district leaders to make decisions about what programs are effective and should stay and which should be eliminated. It will also create more balanced staffing ratios across the district and will help to eliminate inefficiencies.
“The community has asked us to live within our means,” said Superintendent Corey Lunn. “That means we have to continue to make changes to how we do business, while minimizing the impact to our students. These are difficult decisions, but ultimately we’re working to make sure we invest dollars in ways that make the biggest difference for students across the district.”
A list of recommended budget adjustments will be presented to the school board for approval during its March 13 meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Stillwater City Hall.