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Tomah School Board reviews flexible spending plan in light of budget uncertainties

Tomah School Board reviews flexible spending plan in light of budget uncertainties

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The Tomah School Board is preparing a 2020-21 budget with a best-case scenario for revenues and a worst-case scenario for spending authority.

Tomah Area School District business manager Greg Gaarder presented an outline of the budget during a June 15 Tomah School Board meeting at Robert Kupper Learning Center. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shrunk state revenues and raised questions about state aid to local school districts.

It was assumed earlier this year the state legislature would pass a budget repair bill that would either freeze or reduce state aid, but Gaarder said that it’s now possible a bill won’t be passed until after the Nov. 3 election. Unless a repair bill is passed, he said “we know nothing different” than the current law that allows for an increase of $179 per student.

“From a financial point of view, nobody knows where we’re at right now or where we’re going to be ... Jan. 1,” Gaarder said. “I’ve built a budget that shows about $1.3 million in flexibility with a zero (aid) increase.”

Gaarder said the existing biennial state budget passed in 2019, along with the school district’s recent referendum to exceed state-imposed revenue caps, are likely to get the district through the 2020-21 cycle.

“From all these scenarios, I think we can weather the storm for one year, and possibly two,” he said.

Gaarder anticipates receiving the district’s state aid estimate by July 1. The board is expected to pass an advisory budget for the annual meeting when it meets July 20.

The annual meeting is Monday, Aug. 24. The board must pass a binding budget by Nov. 6.

Gaarder also said the district has $800,000 in unspent funds from 2019-20 due to savings from closing school in March. He said the district could apply the money to the fund balance, which he said is lower than most school districts in the area. The district would lose a small amount of state aid, but Gaarder said it would give the district additional budget flexibility in 2021-22.

In other business, the board heard a report on open enrollment. The district had 32 requests for students to enter the district and 24 requests to leave. Superintendent Cindy Zahrte noted that state aid follows a student to his or her new district, which means the district would gain revenue from the net increase of students.

Zahrte said one of the 32 incoming requests has been rejected due to lack of space in the district’s special education program.

The board also:

  • Increased lunch and breakfast prices by 10 cents across the board for the 2020-21 school year.
  • Approved a bid of $399,000 from Custom Insurance Solutions for liability coverage. The bid is $12,000 higher than last year with most of the increase due to Worker’s Compensation.

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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