Levy increase of 1.55 percent for School District 166

The ISD 166 school board approved a levy of $1,063,844 for 2014, the amount of the levy limit, at its last meeting of the year on December 19.  This reflects a 1.55 percent increase -- $16,243.15 -- over the 2013 levy and amounts to about 15 percent of the school’s revenue.  The school’s share of the taconite credit increased by $13,785.45 to $302,405.90. 

Total expenditures for the 2013-14 fiscal year are projected at $7,350,235.01.  Salaries and wages comprise 43.6 percent of expenditures, and employee benefits comprise another 13 percent.

In 2012-13, the district had an unassigned general fund balance of 39.5 days’ worth of daily expenditures, which averaged $29,831, close to the 45-day minimum the school board set several years ago.  The unassigned general fund balance is expected to be down to 25 days by the end of next June.  Declining enrollment has challenged the school’s finances for the last several years.  Enrollment projections indicate an average decline of one student a year for the next four years.  A December 19 information sheet prepared by Superintendent Beth Schwarz states that as enrollment declines, “we will continue to work on right-sizing our budget, with the intent of having a break-even budget by FY17.”

This year has brought an unexpected increase in special ed needs requiring an increase in staffing and opening an additional special ed room. 

Schwarz has been talking to the school board about increasing district office staff after drastic reductions were made over the last couple of years.  “We have been trying to transition to a significantly reduced district office staff,” she wrote, “and it is becoming apparent we reduced too far.”

Two pieces of good news may help keep the school afloat.  The state now has money to pay back “IOUs” to districts from when it had withheld payments due to severe revenue shortfalls, although districts have had to budget as though the money were there already, requiring some districts to take out loans to cover expenses.  In addition, kindergarten students will now be funded on a full-time basis as other grades are.