Willmar Public Schools: Strong Today. Future Focused.

Posted by Dr. Jeffrey Holm on 4/7/2023

Willmar Public Schools has a lot to celebrate: a welcoming environment, diverse academic offerings strong athletic programs and an exceptional fine arts department. That being said, we are at a financial crossroads. Simply put, the District is spending more than it brings in each year, and while it may sound like an easy fix: spend less and balance the budget, it’s not that simple. Let me explain.

 

Up until about 2021, our revenues and expenses were tracking along fairly closely, however, after that point, expenditures began to increase and revenues did not keep up, to the point where we’re potentially facing a $5 million deficit in FY2023. Let’s take a closer look at why each situation happened.

  • Expenditures increased – The cost for our Special Education and English Learner programs continue to increase, and state and federal funding for these programs doesn’t meet promised levels. Not only does the law preclude cuts to Special Education spending, we have a moral imperative to fund these important programs.

  • Lagging revenues – State funding per pupil has not kept pace with the increase in cost per pupil, nor with inflation in general. Additionally, enrollment has declined and is projected to continue to descend in the years to come, meaning that the dollars received per pupil will be lost.

 

Other Variables Affecting Situation

Other variables that have an impact on our current budget situation include the phasing out of COVID-19 funding; the potential impact of how compensatory aid (or additional funding received from the state) is calculated, which might turn out in our favor; students open enrolling to other districts; and funding changes that could result following the conclusion of this year’s legislative session. Another variable we must consider is a staffing shortage for everything from our educators to support staff, which means we need competitive salaries and benefits to attract and retain quality staff.

 

While the District has a modest general fund balance of approximately $12 million this year, the fund could be completely depleted in a few short years if we were to rely on it to make up for the district’s annual shortfall. This year, we are looking at reducing our budget by $2 million to begin to rightsize our budget. The cuts won’t be easy, but we believe they are the prudent thing to do to address a serious issue that cannot be kicked down the road for a future board to deal with. 

 

Community Members Providing Input

The board has enlisted the input of a Task Force of more than 40 individuals from throughout the community, representing all walks of life, including teachers, parents, business owners, and more. To date the Task Force has met three times . The group has named five priorities for the School Board to consider as it reviews potential cuts to the district budget. The following made the top of the list:

1: Mental Health & Student Safety

2: Athletics and Fine Arts

3: Class Sizes/Teacher-to-Student Ratio

4: Academic Programming and Curriculum Resources

5: Instructional Core Focus

 

Additionally, staff has been informed of the latest information through a series of update meetings throughout February and March. We will hold Community Meetings in April and May - watch for invitations coming soon.

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