The Petersburg School district is dealing with more money than it anticipated going into this year and will be using some of the money to take care of capital project needs around the campus. The school board Tuesday approved a revised budget and also OK’d the purchase of new software for the district’s finance office.

Enrollment numbers at Petersburg schools are up this year, over 460 students. Last year enrollment was 431 and the district budgeted for 442 this year. Those additional kids bring with them more state funding but the district has not been hiring more staff, yet.

School superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter told the board that schools have too few teachers. “It’s a tricky time, because in this crazy budget world right now, we have been so reluctant to over-staff that we’re under-staffed,” . For the last two years. And it’s, you know, it’s starting to show. It’s kind of a tricky position to be in we’re very fiscally aware of what’s going on but we’re also understaffed.”
School District building with no snow
Kludt-Painter said teachers have increased their workloads to make up for the additional students. The problem, she explained, is that students have come into the district throughout the year and in all grades. “We’ve had people ask, well if they’ve come in and you feel you’re understaffed why aren’t you addressing that? The problem with that is it’s not that simple, as you guys could imagine too. You don’t get all of your kids don’t come in as fourth graders where you could say OK we need to hire a fourth grade teacher and we’re going to have that new class start in October, it doesn’t work.”

A proposed budget revision for this school year has increased spending by more than half a million dollars with funding for more equipment and staff travel, additional teaching supplies, new musical instruments and choir risers, to name a few. However, more than half of the increase, $300,000, will be transferred into capital projects. Specifically staffers want to set aside $85,000 for new accounting software, 100,000 for a new phone system and 115,000 to improve wheelchair accessibility in the schools.

Even with the increased spending the district has a problem of too much money in its accounts this year. The school’s ending fund balance from last year is actually bigger than the district thought, because of a revised payment amount paid by the state into the Teacher Retirement System. The schools are only allowed to keep up to 10 percent of their operating budget in reserve and finance director Karen Quitslund explained the schools are currently above that limit.

“So overall our ending fund balance is 1.1 million,” Quitslund told the board. “Which, you know we’re capped at the 10 percent, which would be $895,000. So we are carrying a larger fund balance than what we really should be.”

Quitslund said the schools will have to spend more money or transfer it into other capital projects in order to get below that 10 percent limit. “We are hoping that the board will work with us and do a work session so we can plan for the next budget revision and have a better idea of what the board identifies as the needs for the district, and we’re talking capital.”

Quitslund said she expected at least two more revisions to this year’s spending plan. The board approved the changes Tuesday by a 5-0 vote.

In related news, the vote was also unanimous to spend jut over 80,000 dollars for the purchase of new accounting software. That purchase is paid for with some of the money set aside for capital projects.

The new software will replace a computer program the district has been using for 35 years. Quitslund told the board the new software would eliminate some time consuming data entry work and she thought that would make employees more efficient.

“Maybe I pick up some other tasks that some people in our district are currently doing but they’re overloaded in their workload. So it’s a really about when you’re balancing out efficiency and cost I think this is a cost effective program. And it’s not an impulse decision. I’ve been thinking about this for over a year,” Quitslund said.

School board members questioned Quitslund about the 80-thousand dollar price tag and the addition 10,000 dollar a years the software support will cost.

“I guess my only question is are we buying a Mercedes program or a Chevy?” asked board member Jay Lister. “We don’t have anything to compare it to. Are there ones out there that are $10,000 that do most everything we need, but not quite as nice or is this like the nicest one that there is out there available?”

Quitslund responded that she thought the price was reasonable and board members agreed to spend the money. The hope is to have that new accounting software installed and staff trained in time for the start up of the next fiscal year in July.