PALMER — At the Feb. 3 meeting of the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board, Deputy Superintendent of Business and Operations Luke Fulp presented the school board with a preliminary budget that contains a deficit of $8,356,163.
While the collaborative budget processes of the Assembly and School Board are ongoing and far from over for the year, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m., on Tuesday to discuss education funding and bond debt. The school board will meet on Wednesday without budget discussion as an agenda item, and the two will hold a joint meeting on March 23. Fulp began his budget presentation of more than an hour’s worth of information on funding history and projections by detailing the timeline that the MSBSD budget will work through before being passed by the school board and forwarded to the Department of Education and Early Development in July.
“This is not a balanced budget. This is designed to inform the public of the main components of our general operating budget and over the next month we will engage in a number of different online venues to seek input from the public that will inform an administrative recommendation around balancing this budget, which will then come before school board as a recommendation from administration on that first meeting in March for further budget deliberations by the school board, and the second meeting in March is when we will balance the budget and adopt it based on borough code and transmit it to the borough,” said Fulp. “Once we have both state and local funding, we’re in a better position to project what those revenues are that we can rely on going into the next year. We align our expenditures to that and we adopt a balanced budget and submit it to DEED by July 15.”
Among the ways that the school district administration is seeking input from the public on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget is a podcast from Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani. On Trani’s “Education Matters” podcast, last week he spent the entire episode discussing the budget processes for FY22. Trani’s podcast can be found under the Superintendent’s tab of the school district website. Those interested in the school district budget can also view Facebook videos, online budget demonstrations and a tool called “balancing act” which allows the public to make their own modifications.
For Fiscal Year 2021, the MSBSD Average Daily Membership, a figure used by the state to calculate funding for districts, was 17,900. The FY21 revenues were $238,019,995 with use of $11,363,781 from fund balance dollars, while expenditures were equal to the two amounts at $249,383,776. For the upcoming budget, Fulp presented an estimate of 19,135 in ADM, an increase of 6.9 percent.
“We are seeing a trend, even in the second semester of this year we have 500 students that moved from either correspondence or at home learning back to their neighborhood school for in person learning. So we are seeing that migration back to their neighborhood schools. I think that everyone wants to return to normal and is anxious to do that. There’s some definite covid fatigue setting in in our community. We don’t believe as a community, we’re not seeing evidence of an overall population decline. Those students and families we do believe will return, just as to when they will return that is an unknown but unfortunately we’re held to a projection that we have to submit to the state in November,” said Fulp.
The preliminary budget for FY22 features $238,411,530 in revenue and $246,767,693 in expenditures, a 1.05 percent cut from last year. The school district funding comes from the state at a 71.75 percent clip, funded with $171,057,118. The Borough’s $65,841 makes up 27.62 percent and MSBSD receives $1,037,606 in Federal grants and $475,000 in other local funding, primarily through facilities use fees. School Board President Ole Larson was wary of Fulp’s assumption that three quarters of all students learning remotely will return to school buildings for instruction.
“That is a very big unknown and I just want to emphasize that,” said Larson. “That’s a very gray area.”
Per state mandate that over 70 percent of funding be spent on instruction, the MSBSD reported 79.05 percent of all expenditures spent in the classroom. Those funds were divided into regular educational instruction, special education instruction, support services and school administration, with over two thirds of the total expenditures coming from regular and special education instruction.
“This preliminary budget without any modifications from administration to move it towards a balanced budget, that will happen in March but at this time it’s just a basic rollover budget,” said Fulp. “We do see that $8.3 million deficit so that’s deficit without any use of fund balance, without any use of any budget reductions to the operating fund and again, the budget process ahead of us that’s where we’ll make some of those recommendations and the board will eventually have the final say on where things go.”