In February, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 Superintendent Theresa Battle said she was “optimistic” about the upcoming budget based on what was likely going to take place this legislative session.
Since then, a number of pieces of legislation have been introduced at the Statehouse in St. Paul, some which Battle says could cost the district more money.
“I’m feeling much, much more cautious about that optimism,” Battle said.
It’s why she told the school board earlier this month that her recommended budget on March 23 will call for a rainy day fund of up to $2 million to pay for any unfunded or underfunded state mandates.
“At this point, we simply don’t know which of these proposals will move forward, if any,” Battle said on March 9.
School board member Abigail Alt said after reviewing all the legislation being considered, she is concerned if it doesn’t come with appropriations.
“There are unfunded mandates embedded in those bills, and it made me really worried,” Alt said.
Universal school lunches
As of deadline for this edition, universal school lunch legislation has passed both chambers and is headed to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, who is expected to sign it into law. School officials, however, are concerned about unintended consequences.
One of those is the lack of funds districts would receive for so-called compensatory aid. The money is additional funding based on the number of students a district has that qualifies for free and reduced lunch.
Aaron Tinklenberg, a spokesperson for District 191, previously told Southwest News Media that about 17% of their students who qualify for educational benefits, including free or reduced lunch, are not automatically certified. It means that each year, those families have to fill out applications in order to receive for benefits.
Essentially, it means the only way the district finds out those households qualify for educational benefits is because the applications are filled out. If all students qualify for free and reduced lunch, there is fear by school officials that applications won’t be submitted. If no applications are filled out, it would mean a loss of about $2 million a year for the district, Tinklenberg said.
Battle said there is legislation being considered to address compensatory aid. If approved as-is, however, the district would still likely have a $600,000 net loss, according to Battle. She said there are amendments being considered to hold districts harmless for one year, meaning the District 191 wouldn’t take the $600,000 hit.
One of the proposals Stacey Sovine, executive director of administrative services, sounded the alarm over was in regards to the amount of prep time for teachers. Right now, the contract is five minutes of prep for every 25 minutes of instruction, which allows for one period a day at the high school dedicated towards supervision and one for prep time.
However, legislation is being proposed to change those standards, and if passed, Sovine said it would cost the district approximately $5 million.
“Then both of those periods would be pretty much chewed up with prep time,” Sovine said.
There is also legislation which would give unemployment benefits during the summer for hourly employees, which Sovine said the district is “looking at cautiously.”
A revenue proposal Sovine pointed to is an increase of 5% for the per pupil general education formula, with inflation tied to it going forward. Sovine said the inflation would be capped at 3%.
According to Tinklenberg, the 5% increase would add up to about $2.3 million for the school district.