Declining enrollment hits Hastings budget, ESSER funds help district maintain services

Posted 7/6/22

Superintendent gets high marks in evaluation By John McLoone Declining enrollment is a theme that puts a wrinkle into Hastings School District budgeting. The school board received a report on the …

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Declining enrollment hits Hastings budget, ESSER funds help district maintain services


Superintendent gets high marks in evaluation

By John McLoone

Declining enrollment is a theme that puts a wrinkle into Hastings School District budgeting.

The school board received a report on the budget at its meeting June 22.

Director of Business Jennifer Seubert told board members that there are a projected 4,495 “pupil units” accounted for in the 202223 school year budget.

“That’s 104 less than what we had in 2122,” she said.

That accounts for a loss in general education aid of about $95,000.

Some revenue shortfall is being made up for with ESSER funds, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that was part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act last year.

The Hastings Public School District ESSER allocation was approved at $2,997,432.26. One area that those funds are to be used for is lost learning opportunities because of the COVID pandemic.

Hastings is projected to lose some Title 1 funding, and that will be offset by ESSER funds. Title 1 is a federal education program that supports lowincome students.

“The childhood poverty level of Hastings dropped below 15 percent, so we only qualify for the base funding for Title,” said Seubert. “For 2223, we were able to fund that out of ESSER. We were able to keep the Title program what it was.”

Overall projected revenues in the 202223 budget are $58,906,737. Projected expenses are $60,193,205. Going into the next school year, the district has a projected fund balance of $25,643,992, and it projects to end the year with 5 percent less in its fund balance, $24,357.523. Within that final fund balance, $13,951,595 is “unassigned,” meaning the funds haven’t been committed to something or their use isn’t restricted. That’s within the board policy of having a minimum of two months operating expenses in reserve, which would be $9,240,106.

Of the district revenue, 73.22 percent is provided by the state, and property taxes make up 15.87 percent of revenue. Federal aid comprises 6.85 percent of the proposed budget.

Employee wages and benefits are more than 80 percent of district expenses. Salaries and wages are 65.7 percent of the general fund, and employee benefits are 25.51 percent, with purchased services at 14.39 percent. Supplies and materials comprise 2.58 percent of the expenditures, and capital expenditures are 0.24 percent of budget. Other expenditures are 0.72 percent of budget.

By program, general fund expenditures are:

•Elementary & Secondary Regular Instruction – 45.93 percent

•Special Education – 18.43 percent

•Sites & Buildings – 11.16 percent

•Pupil Support Services – 10.75 percent

•Instructional Support Services – 4.84 percent

•District Support Services – 3.85 percent

•Administration – 3.52 percent

•Vocational Instruction – 0.98 percent One other item Seubert touched on that affects revenue is that the number of students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch program has dropped at a higher rate than enrollment. Enrollment was 4,416 students in 2017 with 21.22 percent of students in the Free and Reduced meal program. In 2021, enrollment was 4,160 with 15.4 percent of students in the meal program.

“That is really having an impact on the district and the funds we receive,” said Seubert. “I don’t think it’s an accurate reflection of our free and reduced population.”

Meals have been covered by USDA dollars for all students through the pandemic. Now with that money not expected for the coming school year, the district needs to make sure eligible families fill out paperwork to take part in the meal program.

“With meals not being free, it will be more incentive for people to complete them (forms),” said Seubert.

The budget was read and adopted by the board unanimously.

Total property taxes the district will levy to support the budget are $17,521,507, up just $10,379 from a year ago. That is comprised of a general fund and community education and services levy amount of $6,681,408, a referendum levy of $6,195,455 and a debt redemption levy from building bonds of $4,644,645.

The board also approved the yearend evaluation of Superintendent Dr. Bob Mc-Dowell. The board completed the evaluation during a special meeting June 8. McDowell received high marks. On a rating scale with “highly effective” at the top end, Board Chair Brian Davis read from a statement: “There are six categories considered for ratings; Instructional Leadership, Finance and Operational Management, Policy and Law, Equity, Communications and Board Relations. The board’s aggregate scores for the evaluation across all areas fell within the Effective to Highly Effective range.”

The board also, by a vote of 42, gave Superintendent Dr. Bob McDowell authority to engage in educational consulting after hours.

“Historically, I’ve taught classes for Bethel, St. Mary’s, St. Thomas. In addition, there are groups that have reached out and want consulting services,” he said.

Board member Jessica Dressely asked, “Would any of this consulting take you away from your daytime position here?”

“No, I don’t anticipate that,” said Mc-Dowell. “Most of the teaching has been on the weekends or evenings. If it landed on a weekday, that would be a day I would use vacation time if I have to do that.”

Director Becky Beissel asked if this was a matter the board approves annually.

McDowell answered, “When I took the position here in Hastings, I stopped doing all the consulting and teaching and advising that I was doing prior to coming here. That’s why I didn’t bring it to the board before.”

Director Stephanie Malm said this could pay dividends for the district also.

“Any opportunity that an employee can get to either be a consultant or an instructor, I feel that is a value add, in particular with networking and staying in tune with what’s going on with education. That feeds into our district too,” she said.

Davis, Malm Beissel and Lisa Hedin voted in favor of the McDowell plan, which Dressely and Mike Reis voted in opposition.