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By Marc Lutz 

School district starts work on next year's budget

 

February 9, 2022 | View PDF



The initial draft budget for the next school year shows a $370,000 deficit, which the school board will work to resolve over the next couple of months.

The board met in a work session on Monday to review the draft, and will take public comment on the spending plan for the 2022-2023 school year in a Zoom meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

More board sessions will follow, as the school district works to match revenues and expenditures, or draw down on its reserves, while deciding on staffing levels and programs.

“Input from the public helps to ensure that Wrangell’s public education meets their needs and expectations,” said Tammy Stromberg, business manager for the district. “It is an open period when we can hear any concerns and answer any questions they may have on next year’s budget.”

The $370,000 deficit is the result of higher expenses — including increases in staff salaries and benefits, energy costs, the rising cost of supplies, materials and insurance — and a flat state funding formula.


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Anticipated revenues for next school year total $4.7 million according to the district’s initial draft budget. That includes borough, state and federal funds. Expected expenditures add up to $5.1 million.

The per-student formula that determines state funding, which provides about two-thirds of the district’s total revenues, has been flat for several years. In addition, a downward trend of student enrollment over the years has cut into Wrangell’s funding from the state.

The district projects enrollment of 263 students next year, up from the 257 currently enrolled, but down from 300 students a few years ago. That number may change this spring based on outgoing graduates versus incoming kindergarteners and families moving in or out of Wrangell. Stromberg said the student projection would need to be adjusted closer to mid-May.


“More students bring more money in state foundation aid, but increased student numbers also bring additional staff and costs to the budget,” Stromberg said, adding that 2022-23 will be the last year the district will receive so-called “hold-harmless” funding from the state, which is intended as a temporary protection to soften the financial hit to districts with declining enrollment.

Though staff cuts were discussed in previous years, the district “will be looking at creative ways to try to keep positions even when facing a deficit,” Stromberg said. “One of these ways is using school-specific COVID funds for the purpose of keeping staff to help our students and lessening any COVID impacts that may have occurred in our student population.”


The district still has federal pandemic relief money available to help pay for the salaries and benefits of three staff members in fiscal year 2023 and two staff members in 2024. The money came from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The district used about half of the approximately $700,000 it received to help cover a gap in this year’s spending plan, saving the other half for future budgets.

Wednesday’s public meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. It can be accessed at bit.ly/34d9Nhy. The meeting ID is 896 7842 5754 and the passcode is 551439.

Public input is a good way for the community to be involved in the process, Stromberg said.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to learn how the budget is structured, how funds are used to educate students, ask questions and voice their suggestions on how the funding is being used,” she said.

 

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