>Referendum likely in 2015
The local impact of state K-12 funding increases recently approved by the Minnesota Legislature are starting to take shape. For Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), the increases may mean that the district will have to reduce next year's budget by only $300,000, down from previous projections that showed a $700,000 budget shortfall.
The basic state per-pupil funding formula was increased, and for WAPS, it will mean an added $235,000 in 2014 and $240,000 in 2015. Special education funding will increase by $80,000 for the next school year. All-day kindergarten will be fully funded in 2015, which will supplement WAPS kindergarten spending by $350,000. WAPS currently offers all-day kindergarten, but the state reimburses only 62 percent of the cost.
Several unknown factors may contribute to final numbers, Finance Director Dan Pyan told the School Board. First, if enrollment declines more than projections, the revenue from the basic per-pupil funding increase would be smaller. Additionally, all district unions will begin negotiating contracts this summer. Raises for district employees could consume some of the added state funding.
Some state legislation on school funding this year did not make many headlines, and Pyan said that Department of Education officials are still trying to interpret what the new statutes will mean for district funding. One new statute will allow school boards to impose property tax levies up to $300 per pupil unit over the basic funding formula without voter approval. That would mean about $1 million more per year for WAPS. However, Pyan said it was unclear whether this amount could be applied over and above the current $1,550 per pupil unit amount collected as a result of the voter-approved referendum. What the statute could do, he said, is allow the School Board to institute the $300 per pupil unit tax, then ask voters for a $1,250 per pupil unit property tax referendum, down from the $1,550 per pupil figure. A $1,250 per pupil unit referendum would be easier to pitch to voters, he explained. Also, "If [a referendum] doesn't pass, at least you'll have the $300 [per pupil unit]," he told the board.
The current $1,550 per pupil unit property tax referendum will expire in 2016, and Pyan said the district should attempt to pass another referendum in 2015.
Another measure approved by the Legislature this year would provide another $212 per pupil unit to the district from state coffers. Pyan said he believed the district had merely to apply for the money, adding that he would report more on the new legislation in the coming weeks.
The School Board is expected to take a final vote on the 2013-2014 budget at its next meeting. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.