The Saint Paul School Board unanimously approved a $909 million budget for the 2022-23 school year on June 21. That includes a $563 million general fund, a reduction of about $8.3 million from the general fund in the 2021-22 school year.
The Saint Paul Public Schools is expecting to lose over $13 million in revenue next year due to a projected enrollment decline of 1,877. With that many fewer students, the district will lose about $7.6 million in per-pupil funding from the state and about $5.7 million in compensatory funding because of a decrease in the number of students from low-income households who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Meanwhile, the district is expecting to receive about $5 million more from the property tax levy.
To make up for the $8.3 million deficit, the district is budgeting for 127.5 fewer full-time-equivalent teacher positions in grades K-12. Saint Paul superintendent Joe Gothard said he recommended the teacher cuts for financial reasons and to address a reduced need because of fewer students in grades K-12 and a switch to block scheduling in the high schools.
No plan for boosting enrollment
School Board member Halla Henderson lamented that there was no line item in the district budget that explicitly addresses the decline in enrollment. “I don’t believe we can expect to reverse this trend without doing something differently,” she said.
Responding to a question from School Board chair Jim Vue, chief financial officer Marie Schrul said the district is preparing to grapple with falling enrollment should the years-long trend continue.
The need to replace one-time federal funding
The Saint Paul Public Schools will have access next year to $98 million in federal money through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Esser II fund, according to Schrul. The federal funds will help pay for 337 full-time-equivalent employees next year, most of them at the elementary school level.
Over the next few months, district administrators will discuss how to respond to the sunsetting of the one-time Esser II and ARP funding. Erica Wacker, the district’s director of communications, said that “some of the staff currently funded through ARP and Esser may be absorbed into the general fund or other funding sources” in the future.
No boost from state surplus
At the June 14 Committee of the Board meeting, Gothard reiterated his frustration with state lawmakers who had yet to decide whether to allocate about $820 million of the state’s $9.25 billion surplus to public education.
“The proposed bill in the Minnesota Senate would have added $18 million to the Saint Paul school district’s base budget,” Gothard said. “That would have covered a portion of our $51.5 million special education funding gap. Adding those dollars into our general fund every year would have been a historic investment. Our current budget shows how we are using limited-term (Esser II and ARP) funds to pay for some of our priorities. A recurring investment from the state would help sustain those efforts after the federal funds expire.”
The district budget for the 2022-23 school year includes a reduction of about $4.5 million for special education due to cuts in staffing that are a direct result of 200 fewer students needing special education services.
The budget includes a $400,000 increase for athletics largely to cover a hike in transportation costs. It includes an increase of $1.7 million for the nutrition services program that will allow 36 district schools to provide free lunches for all students. It includes a $1.8 million increase in employee benefits. The district has also added about $360,000 to its security budget to hire more school support liaisons.
— Casey Ek