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Perham-Dent School Board: Legislative changes edge district closer to the black

Preliminary budget numbers for the upcoming school year suggest that the Perham-Dent School District will have a much smaller deficit within the next two years, due largely to changes enacted by the most recent Minnesota Legislature.

The preliminary budget for the district’s 2014 fiscal year projects a deficit of $793,000, which is down from $810,000 in the previous year.

Part of that difference is due to an increase in per pupil funding from the state, which went up 1.5 percent this year, said the district’s Business Manager, Kristi Werner. The district will receive an additional $78 per pupil unit, a unit of measurement the state uses to count students across all grade levels, she explained.

A student in grades 7 through 12 counts for 1.3 pupil units, for instance, while a student in kindergarten counts as .6125 pupil units.

At recent meetings, several members of the Perham-Dent School Board stressed that the budget is preliminary and does not take staff salary adjustments and other certain factors into account.

“Once we have better enrollment numbers and things like that from the state, we’ll look into it further,” said Werner at a meeting June 19.

“This is very preliminary, so we’ll be looking at it again in a few months,” said Chairperson Myron Roe.

Minnesota law requires a preliminary budget to be submitted before July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, even though there are still many “unknowns,” according to Werner.

Those unknowns include grants, such as the Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services, which will bring $100,000 into the district and was only recently approved, Werner explained.

Other variables, such as final enrollment numbers, which determine levels of state funding, won’t be settled until the school year actually begins, forcing the district to use its “best guesses” in that area, said Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

Ultimately, the board is “looking at deficit spending of $500,000” in the 2013-14 school year, Anderson said, and plans to spend down some of the district’s unassigned fund balance to accomplish that goal.

The budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which covers the 2014-2015 school year, projects to have a deficit of $85,000, mainly due to an influx of nearly a million dollars due to legislative changes – the most striking of which will be a change in  the way the state calculates various district’s pupil units, Werner said.

For the fiscal year 2015, students in kindergarten through sixth grade will be worth one pupil unit, while seven through 12 will be 1.2.

Anderson said the projected deficit of $85,000 is a “ballpark balance” in a budget that totals roughly $13.5 million.

He estimates that the board will revise its budget, with final enrollment numbers and confirmations from grants, at a meeting in November or December.