Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

Despite the many unknowns, a preliminary view of what’s to come for the 2019-20 Eau Claire school district budget shows another tough financial year ahead.

“I want the board and everyone else to understand where we’re at,” said Abby Johnson, the district’s executive director of business. “It looks like it’s going to be another difficult year as we begin to build our 2019-20 budget.”

At the Monday night school board meeting, Johnson presented to the board information gleaned so far in the early stages of budget development for next year, regarding issues such as the district’s shrinking fund balance, revenue changes known so far, deferred expenses from the 2018-19 budget and a list of unknowns so far.

Using the three-year average student membership from the 2018-19 academic year as a starting point, Johnson said she estimates the state aid per pupil would decrease from $654 to $630 per student. That would mean $270,552 less in revenue for the district.

“It’s a long process, and we have a lot of work to do,” Johnson said. “These numbers will be different, but it’s a start.”

Johnson also reminded the board of deferred budget requests from the 2018-19 budget, including board decisions to stagger a district technology refresh for new iPads over three years rather than one, expenses for musical instruments and the district’s mentorship program among others.

In addition, the board made cuts to funding for building maintenance in the last budget, which Johnson said likely means the district will need to spend a bit more on capital improvements in the next budget.

Some of the unknowns, Johnson said, include inflation, changing health and dental insurance rates and salary levels in the upcoming year, as well as the costs of retiree or other post-employment benefits (OPEB) the board elected not to change in a December meeting.

With the district’s health and dental rates currently out for bids right now, Johnson estimates cost to the district will increase by $1 million in the next year, “a conservative estimate.”

In addition, Johnson said changing salary levels would likely cost the district $1.4 million next year.

Regardless of all the moving pieces going into the next budget, board member Chris Hambuch-Boyle said she’s optimistic about the future of school funding in Wisconsin, as the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding was released Monday.

The report, assembled by nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau staff, examines how tax dollars are disbursed to schools and how they can be better allocated in order to better meet educational needs across the state. This year, the committee recommended supported increases in state funding, including to per-pupil funding for districts.

“They went bolder than I thought they would. ... I’m hoping that makes a difference,” Hambuch-Boyle said. “I’m hopeful, and the people that participated in that process were hopeful as well.”

In other news

• The board unanimously voted to close open enrollment at Northstar Middle School’s ARCTIC Zone program and special education cluster sites at eight cluster special education sites for the 2019-20 school year due to foreseen space limitations.

The ARCTIC Zone program is a partnership between Northstar and the district’s LEAP (Learning Environments and Partnerships) Committee. ARCTIC stands for “Authentic Real-World Curriculum and Technology-Infused Classroom.”

Cluster sites are schools that offer specialized programming for students whose needs necessitate one-on-one supervision, instruction, services or supports provided during the school day.

• The board moved to reschedule its next meeting to 4 p.m. Jan. 21 because of the Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance ceremony scheduled that day at 6 p.m. The meeting was previously scheduled for 7 p.m. that day.

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter