In the coming weeks, community members will hear more about the planned budget reductions for the 2012-13 school year. As we discuss the budget reductions, it is important that we look back in order to help our community look forward.
After a significant process of public engagement and organized efforts to gather feedback from our community, the Brainerd School Board deliberated for months before deciding the amounts of the operating levy questions that appeared on the Nov. 8, 2011, ballot. After careful forecasting and financial review, the levy amounts necessary to maintain current expenses and avoid further cuts were higher than the school board or administration wanted to ask of our community in light of current economic conditions.
Therefore this choice meant one thing; any levy questions that were asked or supported would be paired with further reductions in our expenses. As we communicated how the proposed levy funds would be used within our district, we found the need for further reductions a difficult message to explain. When we were asked, “Why are you still planning for cuts when you are asking for an additional levy amount?” we often discussed flat funding from the state and decreased enrollment.
As many of you learned though levy communications and information sessions, for three years leading up to the current school year, Brainerd Public Schools received no increase in general education funding from the state. In fact, the state delayed payments to schools during this time, which affected our district’s cash flow by more than $15 million. During this same time, we also experienced declining enrollment, resulting in decreased total revenue.
Through our continued budget reductions, responsible fiscal management of our expenses and stretching the use of the one-time revenue the district received from the 2009 stimulus funding, we have been able to maintain student programs and opportunities during this challenging economic time. However, the stimulus funding ran out and we received an increase in the state aid funding formula of less than a 1 percent for this year. Therefore, we are tightening our belts and living within our means so we will be able to maintain a balanced budget during our still uncertain future. We feel a balance of further expense reductions combined with new levy revenue (a levy which is still less than half of the state average) is the best plan to move ourselves to an operating budget that is both effective and sustainable.
Thank you to our community for understanding and supporting this plan during the November election. Though we are thankful for the funds from the operating levy, the overall plan also called for expense reductions and we must move ahead with the budget reductions for the 2012-2013 school year. Fortunately, our prudent fiscal management has preserved a sufficient amount of money in reserves, affording us the ability to approach these upcoming reductions over a two-year period. This extended time will help us with time to make the best decisions possible, reducing the impact to classrooms and programs.
For our staff, whose everyday purpose and passion is helping to change the lives of children in our community, budget reductions are emotional, difficult, and draining. But with the ongoing support, understanding, and commitment of our entire community, we remain committed to meeting both the challenges and opportunities we face. At the same time, we aim to ensure each and every child is prepared to take a meaningful place in an ever-changing, ever more globalized society.
STEVE RAZIDLO Superintendent Brainerd Public Schools