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Public to weigh in on district's looming $7.7M deficit

South Washington County School administrators have started looking for ways to plug a $7.7 million budget deficit, and soon district residents can add their input.

The district has begun planning for the multi-million-dollar shortfall anticipated for the 2015-16 school year, the largest deficit in recent years. General fund revenue is estimated at roughly $191.1 million, while district expenses are anticipated to be $198.8 million.

A budget adjustment committee already is meeting to address the deficit, Finance Director Dan Pyan said last week. That committee includes building principals and representatives from other district departments. It will gather ideas from its members as well as from other district staff, school stakeholders and a community survey. That survey will appear on the district’s website.

The budget adjustment committee will make recommendations to a steering committee consisting of six district administrators. Superintendent Keith Jacobus will present the steering committee’s recommendation to the School Board in late January.

School Board member Michelle Witte said the sooner the board can receive budget reduction recommendations, the better. She called the budget deficit “pretty scary.”

School Board Chairman Ron Kath said getting budget information sooner than usual is important because the district may need to finance roughly $700,000 in architectural work next year as it begins the construction in its long-range facilities plan.

The $7.7 million deficit is an estimate. District 833’s budget assumes a 1.5-percent increase in state aid, so any different amount approved by the Minnesota Legislature next spring will alter the school budget, Pyan said. Also, district expenses could change between now and next spring, when the School Board will finalize the 2015-16 budget.

A series of public meetings will likely be held in February to get community input on the proposal before the School Board begins approving the budget in the spring.

The deficit-reduction plan could include spending cuts or new revenue. The School Board may consider an operating referendum for November 2015 to help generate new revenue.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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