Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district’s budget fix easier than expected

/ 7 June 2012 / jennifer

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, June 7, 2012 –

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district’s budget is not quite as tight as expected, thanks to some unexpected savings and school board members’ willingness to dip into $780,000 of cash reserves.

Lower-than-expected health care costs and savings on a new busing contract allowed school board members to save several high school and junior high school positions, 1.5 English-as-a-second-language teaching positions and an expanded busing boundary for elementary school students.

The district entered the budgeting process needing to cut about $5 million from each of the next three years to keep pace with stagnant funding, declining enrollment and growing operational costs.

At first, school leaders proposed moving to a modified calendar, including 17 four-day weeks, to help save nearly $800,000 on busing, food service and other costs. The proposal included reducing the number of school days from 172 to 155 in exchange for longer days.

But that proposal was rejected by community members who expressed concern that the shorter weeks would affect working parents and children who receive free and reduced-price meals, a key indicator of poverty.

Instead, school board members decided to tap cash reserves and other savings to balance the budget.

Despite these savings, the district will need to continue to reduce costs in the 2013-14 school year and beyond.

Board members voted to direct Superintendent Randall Clegg to examine a number of cost-saving measures and present his findings to the board in September. The options include closing a school building, closing the district administrative offices and reducing transportation options.

Board member also discussed exploring new ways to generate revenue.

One place the district is seeing a financial upside is in compensatory funding — government money given to school districts to help intervene with at-risk students. In 2008, Burnsville received just $1.9 million in compensatory dollars; next year, the district will receive $5.4 million to provide those services.

The increase comes as the demographics of the district change, with growing populations of poor students. In response, district officials plan to use $1.5 million in compensatory funding to offer free full-day kindergarten to all students in hopes it will improve achievement in future years.

School leaders are expected to adopt the budget officially when they meet June 21. The budget must be in place when the fiscal year ends June 30.

Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress.