The Tomah Area School District’s 2020-21 budget appears stable, but the outlook beyond that is very uncertain. The Tomah School Board heard the updated budget details during its regular monthly meeting May 18 at Robert Kupper Learning Center.
School district business manager Greg Gaarder told board members they would get their first look at the 2020-21 budget during the June 15 meeting. He said the district spent $900,000 less than budgeted in 2019-20. The funds can be applied to 2020-21, although the district wouldn’t get aided on the rollover based on the state aid formula.
“I think we’re in a position to handle anything that’s thrown at us for the 20-21 school year, but it’s what the budget is going to look like in 21-22 and 22-23,” Gaarder said.
Sharply reduced income and sales tax revenues triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have ripped an estimated $2 billion hole in the state budget, and Gaarder expects a budget repair bill that could either leave state aid at 2019-20 levels or reduce aid by up to $100 per student. He said the district could handle a zero increase in state aid.
“It’s hard to decide which budget to present,” he said. “I’ll probably present a budget based on what we know today.”
Superintendent Cindy Zahrte dismissed the idea that online learning can save the district money. She said a recent study estimated that moving from classroom to online instruction increases teaching hours by 14 percent.
“We’re not going to have more money to hire extra teachers,” Zahrte said.
The district converted to online instruction in March when Gov. Tony Evers ordered all public and private schools to shut down. The final day of classes in Tomah was originally set for June 3, but the board opted to end the school year May 22.
In other business, the board:
- Modified graduation requirements for the 2020-21 school year. The final day for seniors at Tomah High School was May 15, and a virtual graduation was broadcast on the school district’s website May 23.
- Approved the district’s applications for the Thomas Earle Fund and Frank Andres Fund.
- Briefly recognized the district’s 10 retiring staff members but held off the customary reception until a later board meeting.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at email@example.com.
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