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Alexandria School Board reviews funding options to bridge budget gaps

At its June 24 work session, the Alexandria School Board discussed the increasing pressures on its budget and explored ways to address those challenges. Most of the discussion centered on a variety of options for asking voters to approve local school funding requests on a November 5, 2019 referendum ballot.

Some of the factors contributing to the challenges include:

  • The district faced a $1.1 million shortfall in 2019-20, requiring it to cut more than half a million dollars in addition to drawing down its fund balance which is a critical safety valve for all districts. The district projects ongoing cuts without additional revenue. 
  • Alexandria is in the bottom 10% of all Minnesota school districts for general education funding. 
  • Alexandria is one of the only school districts in the area without a voter-approved operating levy, which means it doesn’t have the additional financial support that many communities provide to help operate their schools.
  • While the district is grateful for the additional state funding which provided $580,000 more than anticipated over the next two years, it does not make up for years of inadequate state funding and unfunded mandates. 

The Board also reviewed highlights from a May community phone survey, which indicated:

  • If additional funding were available, respondents top priorities are expanding mental health services and real world work experiences, similar results to what was found last fall.
  • If cuts were needed, respondents are most supportive of avoiding cuts to elementary art, music and science teachers and avoiding teacher cuts at all levels.

“We are committed to providing educational excellence for all students, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain our programs and services with expenses outpacing revenue,” said School Board Chair Dean Anderson. “We need to find a way to balance our needs with our community’s priorities and support levels, while remaining fiscally responsible.”

In addition to exploring ways to address the operating budget gap, the School Board discussed addressing deferred maintenance facility needs such as aging roofs, enhancing building security measures and safe passage to/from school, which could require voter-approved bond funding. The district is also experiencing enrollment growth, but hopes to manage those space needs by relocating district services and programs to open up classroom spaces without needing to build additional classrooms.

The School Board will continue to discuss referendum options in July, with a decision anticipated at its July 15 meeting.