On Thursday, the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board is expected to approve its 2013-2014 preliminary budget of more than $42 million. The board will also examine proposals for a host of energy-saving upgrades to district buildings ranging from $5.6 million to over $12 million.
The preliminary 2013-2014 budget includes $525,000 in reductions approved by the board several months ago, and the expenses it outlines rely on assumptions for union contracts that will be negotiated in the coming months. All district unions are due for a new contract, and WAPS Fiscal Affairs Director Dan Pyan said he budgeted for a one percent increase in salaries and a 3.66 percent increase in healthcare expenses. Overall, with retirement and attrition, district spending on salaries is expected to go down .65 percent, explained Pyan, but with the increase in the cost of benefits, the total cost of salaries and benefits is expected to increase by about $146,000 over this year's spending, up to $31.9 million for the 2013-2014 school year.
Pyan declined to estimate the total union contract "package" cost increases figured into the budget, explaining he did not want to begin negotiations in the media before the district's negotiating committee begins meeting with union representatives on the new contracts. In past years, total package cost increases, which include salary raises, step increases, lane changes, extra curricular activity costs, health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance, longterm disability and worker's compensation expenses have ranged from a 7.39 percent increase in 2001 and an 8.61 percent increase in 2005, to a more moderate increase in 2009 of 2.13 percent. From 2011 to 2013, the total package cost increase was 3.99 percent.
Energy savings contract
The board is also expected to review several energy savings building upgrade proposals, ranging from $5.2 million to $12.3 million.
The projects would use a Minnesota statute that allows local government bodies to avoid competitive bidding requirements and bond for projects that would pay for themselves in energy savings over a 15-year period.
The projects would add efficiency upgrades to district buildings from upgrades such as heating and ventilation improvements and lighting and vending improvements. With the 15-year energy savings payback model, completing the projects at a building could also produce problems if the School Board wanted to close the building before the projects paid for themselves with energy savings over the next 15 years.
The $5.2 million option would provide enough in energy savings annually to pay for the projects, while the more expensive options would rely in part on increased property tax levies. Deferred maintenance levy dollars, safe school levy dollars, alternative facilities levy dollars and health and safety levy dollars would be used to help cover the cost of the projects — all property tax levies that do not require voter approval. Pyan said the increases in the property tax levies would be sequenced after the Middle School bonds are paid off so as to avoid a dramatic spike in local taxes. However, some options would require the district to devote its maximum allowance of levy funds to the projects, which wouldn't leave much left for other capital expenses such as technology equipment. Pyan said he wasn't necessarily endorsing the most expensive proposals, because "we have to have a balance between building [needs] and instructional technology; there's only so much money to go around."
For a complete list of projects, visit www.winonapost.com.