District 622 budget cuts include 90 layoffs

Local schools grappling with $8 million deficit

District 622 school board members had to use their red pens last month as they slashed just over $8 million from the general fund budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale board approved the deep cuts, which include eliminating about 90 district staff, on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

The school board first ratified a budget reduction plan at its Jan. 27 meeting, after being presented with an audit that showed projected expenditures exceeding revenues by a little over $8 million. The 2013-2014 audit identified salaries as being over budget by $4 million.  

Superintendent Patty Phillips reminded the board in January that the district had decided to forgo budget cuts for a couple of years following several consecutive years of considerable budget decreases.

The pending layoffs include teachers, administrators and support staff such as paraprofessionals. Tartan and North will also each lose an assistant principal, bringing the number down to two at both high schools.

"What's happening now, in the next few days, is that buildings will get their allocations for staffing for next school year," District 622 business services director Randy Anderson told the Review Thursday, Feb. 26.   

Total staffing cuts make up about $5.7 million. The non-staff reductions to next year's budget total $2.3 million. That amount includes some one-time cuts, such as freezing the replacement of school buses next year, and reducing the budgets for technology and instructional curriculum.

Anderson said district leaders worked hard to crunch numbers to come up with budget solutions that would have the least impact on programming throughout the district. They met several times to go over possible scenarios and solicited feedback from school administrators and the public.

"It's always tough to cut at that number, but given the situation, we did pretty well," he said.

Anderson noted that District 622's budgetary problems are far from unique; several other districts -- including neighboring South Washington County Schools -- are making similar cuts to their 2015-2016 budgets.

"I look at this as not so much an expenditure problem but a revenue problem," Anderson said.

District 622 has not seen an increased voter-approved tax levy in over a decade, he said.

Decreased home values resulting from the collapse of the real-estate market and declining enrollment have further cut into District 622's revenues over the past several years.

While median home values have begun to recover in some District 622 communities, they remain far below pre-Great Recession levels.

According to a written statement, the district receives over $1,200 less in per pupil state, federal and local property-tax revenue than the seven-county metro average, for a total of about $13 million less in revenue annually.

The district's reserve funds have also been largely depleted in recent years to pay for needed safety, security and technology improvements, as well as for new artificial turf at the North High and Tartan stadiums.

Anderson said with the budget cuts in place, District 622 is projected to have a $2 million fund balance in 2016 - far below the district's goal of $5 million. The intention is to have that amount increase over time.

He said the reserves are needed for cash flow purposes for things like meeting payroll.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.
 

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