Petersburg’s School Board at their meeting Tuesday night discussed ways to address the possibility of losing hundreds of thousands of federal dollars through Secure Rural School Funding. They also got an update on this year’s budget. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:
School Board President, Sarah Holmgrain, called the meeting to order and it was down to business which included going over revisions to this year’s budget.
The overall revenue for the school district is $8.7 million. And that’s exactly what the expenditures are.
“It’s pretty much a balanced budget,” said Karen Quitslund, Finance Director for the district. “I didn’t nickel and dime this budget as far as moving $600 out here, $600 out there because what I have found in the few years that I have been doing this is in the fall I tend to make major changes and in the spring I have to move it back. So this is more of a realistic budget.”
The budget revisions involved allocating out additional revenue after learning what state funding would be this year. The district budgeted conservatively for teaching supplies, professional development, and activities. Since the budget was made, more revenue has been realized through increases in the State Foundation Funding.
The district is spending 72 percent of the overall budget for direct instruction to students.
$1.8 million of the school district’s annual revenue comes from the borough. And a third of that–$600,000–is pass through federal money from Secure Rural School Funding.
But that federal funding is in jeopardy. It was reauthorized for two years in 2015 by Congress but it hasn’t been funded again.
Still, Board President Sarah Holmgrain remains positive.
“We’re optimistic,” Holmgrain said. “Hopefully the state will continue to provide the same level of funding at this point because we don’t expect it to go up.”
She says the borough has a limited fund balance of four million dollars but that won’t last forever.
To find a way to offset the loss of future revenue the school board is considering asking for a special electric rate or what’s called a “municipal rate” for buildings that are owned by the borough but occupied by the school such as the swimming pool and community gym.
Right now, the school pays commercial rates.
Holmgrain says a municipal rate could be part of a solution.
“It’s another creative way I think of helping nonprofits or those like us where we can’t raise money, you know, we can’t increase rates, our hands are tied with what we get. And a lot of our money is tied on certain things you can only spend certain things on. You know, it’s like nope, ‘We don’t care if you can’t afford your electric bill. You have to spend this on X, Y, Z because it’s a federal mandate or it’s a grant.’ All of a sudden we would be freeing up another potentially $100,000 to be spent where the need is not necessarily where we’re told to spend it.”
With a lower municipal electric rate, Holmgrain says the district could save over $100,000 a year.
She says the concept is not new.
“A lot of boroughs or municipal counties have municipal rates,” Holmgrain said. “It’s not a unique or new idea. It exists but it happens we just don’t have it here.”
Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says a municipal rate is a logical idea to pursue because the school district and borough both share and pay for the pool and gym. The borough owns the facility and the schools use it and pay for the electricity. She calls it a symbiotic relationship.
“To me that seems like a really positive and kind of appropriate way to have that conversation,” Kludt-Painter said. “You know, it’s the same sort of pot of money, we’re talking about a shared facility.”
Holmgrain and Kludt-Painter will work together to draft a letter to the borough assembly asking them to consider putting the idea of a municipal rate on their agenda for discussion in February.