Only days into the new year, work has already started on the Eau Claire school district’s 2019-20 budget, and on Monday the school board will discuss current projections that will serve as a starting point for budget development.
“Obviously, we’re in the early stages, but the work on preparing the next budget has already begun,” said board President Joe Luginbill. “Not only will there be work to be done at the local level in regard to making some tough decisions and pursuing potential revenue streams but also advocating in the coming months at the state level as that budget is presented and proposed. That will certainly impact school districts across the state.”
Abby Johnson, the district’s executive director of business, said her presentation on Monday will include information regarding the district’s shrinking fund balance, revenue changes known so far, deferred expenditures known so far, as well as the many unknowns the district faces going into budget development.
“This will be a very early discussion of what 2019 might look like, as well as trying to see what the board wants to work on,” Johnson said. “It’s developing that awareness of what we did to bring our deficit down and what’s the plan going forward.”
With a proposed operating budget of $142.7 million and a revenue budget of $139.5 million, the 2018-19 spending plan is expected to create a deficit of more than $3 million. The budget also is expected to cause the district’s reserves to dip to an unprecedented 16.5 percent.
In order to move forward into the next year, Johnson said she hopes to get guidance from the board about where their priorities lie in terms of what spending was put off or cut in the last budget.
In an effort to cut some costs in the 2018-19 budget, updating district iPad technology was staggered over three years, rather than all at once, Johnson said. For next year, the board will need to discuss plans for that expenditure going forward, as well as others.
Some of the many unknowns that the district faces at this point with the budget include health and dental rates and other items as it relates to salary and fringe benefits, Johnson said.
Another unknown is the impact that Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who has professed himself “the education governor,” will have.
“I certainly feel hopeful because of the high priority that the incoming governor has placed on public education,” Luginbill said. “I’m also hopeful because of the real interesting engagement we’re seeing from our staff in the school district and our families who want to get involved in a deeper way as far as looking at our budgetary situation and looking at solutions. I’m hopeful for a number of reasons, definitely.”
The board also has been considering a variety of projects in the pipeline — including a proposed Spanish dual immersion school, the Little Red Nature Campus, a potential virtual school, transforming Roosevelt Elementary School into a 4-year-old kindergarten hub — that will be need to be considered as they relate to the budget.
“We need to refocus on what we need and what we can go without,” board member Chris Hambuch-Boyle said in a December interview. “We have to look at every penny and what it’s spent on and how it’s impacting the district in the most positive way, and that’s what we’re going to need to spend our money on. Some things are going to have to be held off on for some time.”
Concussion and head injuries
On Monday the board also will discuss a new policy recognizing the severity of concussions and other head injuries.
The drafted policy would mandate that, at the forefront, information regarding concussions be shared with families on the district website and for specific school-supported activities as needed.
In the case that a concussion occurred, the district also would coordinate support services for the student, according to the drafted policy.
“We are obviously seeing head injuries and concussions at an alarming rate across this country, particularly through our students in athletics,” Luginbill said. “Our school district has really over the past year placed a high priority on looking at what we’re doing at this district that puts our students at risk.”