St. Paul schools to tap reserves, increase spending in 2013-14

District to increase general fund spending in reorganization’s final year.

 

For the final pivotal year of a districtwide reorganization, St. Paul Public Schools has settled on a 2013-14 budget that increases general fund spending — and taps $12.6 million in reserves in the process.

Building and professional development costs will rise under the “Strong Schools, Strong Communities” plan.

By dipping into its reserves, the district is employing a different strategy than the Minneapolis Public Schools, which decided as part of its 2013-14 budget planning not to touch its surplus. Minneapolis will finish its budget next week.

Last month, St. Paul rolled out a budget proposal that had general fund expenditures outpacing revenues by $18 million. Since then, the budget has been revised to take into account $10.8 million in new state money. That should lighten the hit on reserves but not produce the type of windfalls some observers may have expected.

Board Member John Brodrick said that the Legislature’s emphasis on all-day kindergarten and early-childhood education — two priorities that St. Paul taxpayers already fund through a special levy — even had some people wondering: Could taxes be lowered?

But Superintendent Valeria Silva said that the state’s all-day kindergarten funding does not come into play until the 2014-15 school year. As for the new early-childhood money, the bulk of it is to go to parents in the form of preschool scholarships. For districts, funds can be used to expand services but not to replace money already being spent, Silva said.

St. Paul now has 709 children on its preschool waiting list, and has been eager to open more slots, she said.

Last fall, voters approved a $39 million per year levy that renewed $30 million in annual spending for all-day kindergarten, early-childhood education and other programs, and added another $9 million per year for technology-enhanced learning.

The budget passed by school board members Tuesday night calls for a 5.6 percent increase in general fund expenditures.

Sweeping changes

This fall, the district will finish a three-year reorganization putting new emphasis on neighborhood schools, which will have more elementary students attending schools closer to home. Geographic zones have been established and bus service to schools outside of the areas will be limited.

As such, the 2013-14 school year is a “seminal year for us,” said deputy superintendent Michael Baumann.

Jaber Alsiddiqui, the district’s chief budget analyst, said $5.5 million of the $12.6 million in reserves is to be dedicated to the Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan, with $1.3 million being used to cover the costs of opening new buildings and $4 million to fund the move to a seven-period day for schools with grades 6-12 and 9-12.

Facility changes include the opening of a new Montessori middle school at the site of L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion School, which is relocating to two East Side campuses, and the relocation of the Riverview West Side School of Excellence to the former home of Roosevelt Elementary.

Across the district, officials are projecting an enrollment increase, from 37,862 to 38,121 students.

Alsiddiqui said that the district will review Oct. 1 enrollment figures for potential impacts on revenue projections, and make adjustments as needed.

The district is facing a different kind of year, Silva said, the first under a full reorganization. She said officials have made the best projections with the data on hand, but “we could be off,” she added, making 2013-14 “kind of scary,” too.

 

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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