Enrollment drop could lead to district layoffs next year

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The Blaine school board has directed superintendent Christopher Granger to begin planning for cuts in next school year’s budget in the event that state funding is reduced. The plan would include staff layoffs.

With this year’s enrollment down 75 students from what the district budgeted, Amber Porter, the district’s executive director of finance and operations, advised the board in a February 22 meeting that budgeting precautions need to be in place because apportionment for the 2021-22 school year will be up in the air. If state apportionment, which is largely based on the previous year’s 10-month enrollment average, is calculated the same as previous years, the Blaine school district will lose funding. Porter also said due to the anomaly of this year, the state may change its rules.

“But in this particular situation, I’m not sure where rules are going to land,” Porter said. “It’s really hard to know what we’re going to have to work with. We could be provided some general relief, or we could be trying to follow former rules.”

The board unanimously passed a resolution to direct Granger to submit a reduced education program plan that would reduce staffing for the 2021-22 school year. This will be used to plan a budget for next year and to notify affected staff by May 15, as required by state law.

Granger encouraged this direction from the board as well. “We’re asking the board to direct us to do a reduced educational program, which will impact our staffing, and could lead to a reduced staff,” he said, adding no action was being taken immediately. He said the plan will look at where money can be saved if hybrid-learning continues next year.

Although February enrollment increased by 27 students, Porter said the district’s average enrollment is still down 75 students from what the district budgeted. The state could decrease next year’s apportionment because of the decreased enrollment as previous funding models have been based on past year’s enrollment.

Porter told The Northern Light that a loss of one student costs the district an estimated $13,655 in revenue. A loss of 75 students would decrease revenue by over $1 million. Porter added that a lot of other moving parts affect the budget. For example, kindergarten through third grade is not funded the same as fourth through twelfth grade, and nor is Running Start and special education classes.

According to the district’s February financial report, the district’s total expenditures in the 2019-20 school year were about $36 million, versus $34.5 million in 2018-19, meaning a $1 million loss would result in nearly 3 percent less revenue.

Porter said the district has cut back on spending since it was warned at the beginning of the year that the state would likely reduce funding. “We were on high alert this year to really be careful, not knowing how the state’s going to adjust any formulas, or if they’re going to adjust any,” she said. “We have had the brakes applied, compared to the authorized budget level.”

The district has been saving compared to the previous school year. As of January, the district had used 34.5 percent of its budgeted expenditures, whereas that time last year it had used nearly 40 percent. 

“There is a ‘use it or lose it’ mechanism in the works here,” Porter warned. She said because the district over budgeted this year, it may cost them next year, which is why a plan is needed.

During the superintendent’s report, Granger encouraged board members, staff and parents to voice as much advocacy as possible toward the state department of health to reduce the six-foot rule in schools so they can return to a regular schedule next school year. With the six-foot rule, the district does not have the square footage to get every student back in the building, he said.

The board accepted Granger’s annual performance evaluation as satisfactory, and moved forward with the intent to extend his employment contract through June 30, 2024. In a separate motion, board president Charles Gibson will bring a final contract recommendation to the board no later than the May 24 meeting.

 

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