After delays driven by a teachers strike and a momentous shift to online learning, St. Paul school district leaders are moving to assemble next year’s budget, and the challenges are familiar.
Expenditures are expected to exceed revenue by about $9 million in 2020-21, and the enrollment forecast points to another decline.
But the district is taking a new approach to the budget process by moving not just to fill gaps, but also to ensure specific priorities are funded from the start, according to a presentation this week to school board members.
The total amount of new investments is small — just $4 million out of a general fund totaling $590 million — but include a continuing effort to strengthen the district’s middle schools as well as to provide culturally relevant instruction.
Still to come are details that include the impact of a new teachers contract on school staffing.
Superintendent Joe Gothard said that he’d stated many times that the district had no new money beyond what was budgeted for the deal, which now calls for $4.7 million in additional mental health support staff.
Now, he said, the task is to repurpose resources to make it happen.
Initially, the district hoped to send proposed budget allocations to individual schools on March 27. Now, however, it will be April 24. Then, school leaders will have about three weeks to work with their respective communities to finalize staffing decisions.
Board members had been hoping for a more robust community engagement process before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tuesday’s committee meeting came a day after the district launched its distance-learning program. It was on spring break last week. Gothard said he was proud of the work that went into the launch and of the results thus far.
“The very best of our district has risen up from a place we could never imagine and in a way that many would not think is possible,” he said.
As of Friday, he said, 33,386 of the district’s 34,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade had access to iPads and 1,700 wireless internet hot spots had been provided to students and staff — with 200 more to come.
The district still has about 50 students with no internet access, he added, but won’t stop until there is 100% coverage.
“It was not easy,” he said of the work. “It will not be easy. But we remain incredibly committed.”
Board Members Jessica Kopp and Zuki Ellis said they expect the district to be better as a result. Ellis added, however, that it was hard not to be able to go into buildings.
“I really, really miss our kids,” she said. “I miss our schools.”