Voter approval of an $18.6 million-a-year ballot measure in November may not have been enough to help the St. Paul Public Schools avert a budget shortfall for 2019-20, according to projections presented to school board members Tuesday.
The district is estimating a $2.9 million general fund deficit for the coming school year, said Marie Schrul, the district’s chief financial officer. Among the factors working against the district is one familiar to the shortfall-weary: declining enrollment.
Schrul said that the district expects a $6.9 million loss in state aid due to the probability of fewer students coming in the door.
The deficit would be the district’s fifth in a row, but the district does have a potential savior in Gov. Tim Walz — specifically, his proposal to raise the state’s bedrock per-pupil funding formula by 3 percent in 2019-20.
Board Member Steve Marchese noted that St. Paul is banking on a 1 percent formula increase, and that if the Legislature backs Walz’s recommendation in full, the district could collect an additional $6.2 million — erasing the projected deficit.
“This would really be a major help,” Marchese said.
Passage of last fall’s levy proposal fueled hope that the district could avoid another round of slashing and trimming.
But enrollment this fall dropped by about 300 students, according to the latest state Education Department data.
The district also has taken a slight hit on the current year’s budget.
General fund expenditures are exceeding revenue by about $1.2 million, Schrul said, and the district’s rainy-day fund is expected to drop from a projected $38.7 million to $37.3 million at school year’s end.
Still to come this spring are proposed school-by-school budget allocations.
The board also heard Tuesday from an advisory group that examined the district’s budget and expenditures.
Touching on what was acknowledged to be a “political hot potato,” Peter Hendricks, a representative of the group, recommended that the district make participation in the Q Comp alternative teacher pay plan a priority.
District administrators long have said that signing onto Q Comp could allow the district to draw up to $9 million a year in state and local funding for expenditures it currently covers for teacher mentoring and other purposes.
But the St. Paul Federation of Teachers has declined to join the district in applying to the state for acceptance into the program. The union restated its opposition to Q Comp in a recent questionnaire sent to school board candidates.