Both Yellow Medicine East and the Clarkfield Area Charter School are set to receive increased per pupil aid and all-day kindergarten funding as a result of state action this past legislative session. The additional funding is a good thing, says YME Superintendent Al Stoeckman and CACS Director Kathy Koetter––but a far cry from relieving the schools from financial uncertainties of the future.
Like most schools across Minnesota, CACS and YME have faced a tough job holding the line on their budget as expenses, from rising insurance to increased need of paraprofessionals, continue an upward trajectory. In recent years, YME has had to look at cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school budget while CACS has maintained a stable, conservative bottomline since its inception seven years ago.
One of the most potentially impactful factors affecting the YME and CACS is per pupil aid, which is a composite of state, local and variable program dollars that can cause significant changes to a school's budget given any swing in enrollment. This past year’s legislature voted to increase per pupil aid by 1.5 percent for the next two years for elementary and high school students, and by significantly more in terms of kindergarten students. In 2014 the 1.5 percent, or $78, increase brings per pupil aid for CACS and YME to $5,302.
With both schools realizing relatively minor changes in students numbers––YME and BRE adding a combined seven students to total 803 and CACS adding six to reach 66––the potential impact of losing or gaining $5,302 per student isn’t so extreme. Consider, however, that YME District enrollment was 930 five years ago––and all of a sudden you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Of the 1.5 percent increase and the all-day kindergarten funding, it is the latter of the two that will have the largest windfall for the schools when it goes into effect in 2015.
The kindergarten funding is something we’ve been waiting for a long-time,” said Koetter.
As they do for elementary and high school students, schools have been receiving per pupil aid for kindergarteners from the state, but only at a rate roughly equal to 60 percent of that received by other grades. Many Minnesota schools already offer all-day kindergarten and eat the additional expense. Both YME and CACS fall into this category, and are excited to see what will amount to a nice funding boost.
As for the size of the increase, that will depend on the number of students. CACS only has five kindergarteners this year, but is expecting 15 the next. Thus, if the new mechanism went into effect this year, CACS would see an additional $10,406 for its five kindergarteners from the state. Whereas next year, assuming a class of 15 kindergarteners, CACS would receive approximately $32,000.
Page 2 of 2 - YME, based on the 71 students it has currently enrolled kindergarten, would receive an additional $140,000.
Asked what the schools might do with such additional funds, both Koetter and Stoeckman agreed that the ongoing volatility in school revenues and expenses it is most prudent to wait and see.
“You want to maintain programs that are good for students, and you want to create new programs that are good for students,” said Stoeckman. “My dream would be to have $100,000 that we could use to bring in some innovative programming––some programming to challenge our students––but we’re going to have to get into the 2015 budgeting first ... To maintain the status quo is difficult. To try and be creative and innovative is even more difficult.
In addition to the per pupil aid increase and all-day Kindergarten funding, the legislature also approved a two-year $300 per pupil board authority tax bill that allows qualifying districts to increase their levy without voter approval up to the $300 cap. Because YME already has an existing levy on the books it would be prohibited from employing new measures at this point in time. Meanwhile, as a charter school, CACS is unable to issue a levy, making it a moot point in Clarkfield too.