By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Following voter approval of an operational referendum this spring, the district’s preliminary 2020-21 general fund budget includes increases of more than $1.4 million in revenues and expenditures from the current school year.
At its regular monthly meeting in May, the Ashwaubenon school board approved a preliminary general fund budget with $35,392,027 in revenues and $35,390,383 in expenditures to be presented at the district’s annual meeting July 8.
“We’re a little better than balanced at this point,” said Business Director Keith Lucius. “We’ve got a little bit of a positive variance at $1,600.”
Lucius said the preliminary budget is an early estimate with variables subject to change prior to final approval in October.
“We built this budget based on the current state budget,” he said. “As you know, things at the state level, financially, are in a bit of disarray.”
Lucius said it’s not known at this point whether there will be changes to the state budget affecting the district’s 2020-21 budget.
“I don’t think anybody at the state level knows what’s going to happen or how the state budget will change and how that will impact schools,” he said. “I have a hard time believing that there wouldn’t be some change affecting schools.”
After speaking with State Sen. Rob Cowles and Rep. Dave Steffen, Lucius said he doesn’t think a state budget repair bill to address the recent economic downturn will be acted upon by the State Legislature anytime soon.
“We’re going forward assuming the current (state) budget,” Lucius said. “We’ve kept some flexibility in there, but there’s not of lot of flexibility that we have when you think of 85 percent of the budget that we have being salaries and benefits.”
He said a large portion of the estimated 4.25 percent increase in revenue for the next school year is related to the $730,000 revenue-limit override approved in the operational referendum, which is being used to fund additional positions for student mental health services.
2020-21 budget factors
Lucius said the following factors were included in the preliminary budget:
• A wage increase of 2 percent for all district staff.
• A health and dental insurance increase of 7 percent.
• A full-time equivalent (FTE) decrease of .69 in teacher staffing.
• A state budget increase of $179 per FTE resident student to increase the revenue limit.
• The state budget including an increase in the reimbursement for special education salaries and benefits from 25 to 30 percent.
• A resident student FTE decrease of 11.
• An open enrollment student FTE increase of 20.
However, Lucius said he has heard talk at the state level about a change to have no revenue limit increase per full-time resident student for 2020-21, instead of the $179 included in the current state budget.
“That’s going to decrease this (school) budget, and that’s where we may have to look at the salary increase, or hopefully health insurance does better, some of those things,” he said.
Because of a rise in unemployment and downturn in the economy, Lucius said he would expect no revenue limit increase to be the most likely change to school funding.
“When you talk $179 per student, and we’re about 2,200 resident students, you can do the math and figure out where that puts us,” he said.
Lucius said he expects no increase in the special education reimbursement would be the second most likely change.
In addition to reducing staff based on enrollment, Lucius said reductions totaling $201,050 recommended in the 2020-21 budget include:
• A renegotiated cleaning contract.
• Eliminating mid-year salary lane advancements for teachers.
• Combining busing for the middle and high school.
• Reducing the staff stipend for participating in the health risk assessment.
• Reducing the building maintenance budget for repairs.
• Eliminating the energy specialist position.
Food service deficit
Lucius said the district’s food service fund “is not doing well this year,” because of the schools being closed to students since mid March. This resulted in what had been $8,000 to $9,000 per day in food sales down to the district reimbursement for serving the meals to students while still paying the staff.
“What we’re pulling in right now is about $3,500 to $3,800 a day in the federal reimbursement for that serving meals to students plan, so there’s some loss there,” he said. “But we’re also not serving as much food, so salaries are still the majority of the cost running that food service program.”
In anticipation of a deficit, Lucius said he expects the district will have to transfer money from the general fund to the food service fund.
“We have not had that in the time I’ve been in the district, and I think quite a while before that,” he said. “It’s an unusual situation this year.”
In the past, Lucius said the district had surplus money in the food service fund, which was able to be used to finish the cafeteria and remodel the kitchen at the high school.
He said money may be transferred from the general fund to food service, but not the other way.