Dist. 11 Board approves budget

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board approved District 11’s 2014-2015 budget at its meeting June 30.

The district will be a half-billion dollar organization in fiscal year 2015.

Revenues are projected to increase $27 million from fiscal year 2014 to $511.7 million, and expenditures will swell $19.2 million to $513.1 million. The fund balance will decrease slightly to $154.8 million.

The majority of District 11’s revenue comes from state aid. The district will rely on the state’s purse even more this year with a formula change that shifts $11 million from local levy to state aid – positive news for taxpayers.

The 2014 property tax levy was finalized in December. The levy is set at just over $92 million, which is $6.5 million less than the property tax levy was in 2013.

In January, the board approved $7.5 million in cuts. More than half of the necessary cuts were found in budget contingency monies. To make up $2 million, the district eliminated 30 positions, mostly teachers on special assignment and teaching and learning specialists.

Then superintendent Dennis Carlson called that last $2 million in cuts “brutal.”

Despite new money with legislative changes, cuts were still a necessity to finance inflationary costs of salaries, benefits, transportation, utilities and more, Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said. Most new money from the Legislature is dedicated to certain spending purposes.

For example, the district will see $6 million come in this fall to fund all-day, everyday kindergarten specifically. New expenses accompany that sum. All-day K requires additional staff, space, materials and more.

All-day K will affect various funds: Community service will lose revenue with the elimination of fee-based programs, and required additions will cause a spike in capital projects spending. But overall, all-day K will be relatively cost neutral, according to Michelle Vargas, the district’s chief financial officer.

The district will spend $7.5 million building additions to six elementary schools to make room for more kindergartners.

Heidemann was surprised to learn that in fiscal year 2013, Anoka-Hennepin spent $76 per student on capital projects, while districts across the Twin Cities metro spent $617 per student on average.

“Our buildings are still in great shape, so we’re doing something right,” Vargas said.

The district typically spends anywhere from $2-$4 million each year maintaining 5.4 million square feet of building space, according to Vargas. District buildings range from 14 to 111 years old.

A 10-year facility plan outlines nearly $150 million in projects, so spending $2 million a year continuously won’t cut it, Heidemann said.

“You’ve seen school districts that haven’t paid attention to this and then all of a sudden they can’t have students in buildings because they’re unsafe, because they have mold, all sorts of bad things relative to facilities,” he said.

Facilities projects were put on the back burner to brace for the 2013 implementation of the state’s Quality Compensation Program, Q Comp, knowing that would affect taxes. Now, it’s time to “throttle back up,” Heidemann said. The buildings are taxpayer assets that need to be kept in good shape, he said.

After Vargas concluded her presentation, the board voted unanimously to approve the budget. June 30 is the last day the board can legally do so, and with two members absent – William Fields and Jeff Simon – Vargas was grateful for a quorum.

Before voting, Heidemann jokingly suggested the board delay action until its next meeting, which warranted an exasperated sigh from Vargas.

Strategic Investments  

Up for separate discussion at the meeting, the board updated its strategic investments last week.

Detailing $11.5 million in investments over a six-year period, the summary saw some changes with items dropping off and new initiatives hitting the board’s radar.

Intending to expand all-day, everyday kindergarten through 2016, the board eliminated items that are now funded with general education aid in fiscal year 2015.

Money devoted to bringing Naviance, a college and career planning tool, into middle schools is no longer required. The district implemented Naviance in the high schools last fall, but decided to explore already funded TIES programming for the middle grades.

An assistant director of curriculum, assessment and instruction position is off of the table with the restructure of the curriculum department. The position would have cost the district $100,000 in fiscal year 2015, Vargas said.

Additionally, a position dedicated to expanding online learning for high school staff was worked into contract negotiations and will not come out of the fund balance reserve.

Two positions were added as strategic investments: a 0.5 full-time equivalent ENVoY trainer at the elementary level and a 1.0 FTE teacher on special assignment who will focus on restitution and culturally responsive teaching practices.

Ongoing funding to keep high school telepresence capabilities is now a strategic initiative of the board. The equipment enables high rigor courses to drum up adequate enrollment by pulling interested students from multiple high schools. Groups of students from each location can come together as one class via video conference.

Coon Rapids High School’s magnet biomedical program will benefit from $50,000 annually the next several years.

“When it was originally presented, we kind of had a bare bones approach,” Vargas said of the program. She compared the minimal start-up funds the biomedical program received – $80,000 in fiscal year 2014 – to the $1.5 million Blaine High School’s Center for Engineering, Mathematics and Science received over its first three years. The CEMS program benefited from Northwest Suburban Integration School District funding.

Supporting the biomedical program with $50,000 annually will allow CRHS to keep building the program, Vargas said.

The board allocated $25,000 to research a possible Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math magnet program for Anoka High School.

Adding arts to STEM education, a STEAM program is a logical leap for Anoka with Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts’ and Anoka Middle School for the Arts’ existing magnet programs.

Eventually, Carlson would like to see magnet programs at all five of the district’s regular high schools.

The board will spend almost $1.9 million on strategic investments this year after adopting the modifications June 30.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]