• Budget balanced, but not sustainable, school officials say
BROOKINGS – The Brookings School district has balanced its budget for school year 2012-2013 at just over $27.6 million, and it’s even carrying over $175,000 in general fund money from the current year.
The budget has increased about $300,000 from last year. Last year, the district cut its budget by nearly $50,000 and created about $34,000 in new revenue by increasing the cost of activity cards, because its state aid dropped.
Brian Lueders, district business manager who created the budget, said the general fund will have a balance of about $3.87 million going into this new year, which is 23.75 percent of expenditures.
It all looks good, Superintendent Roger DeGroot said during Monday night’s school board meeting, but it can’t last.
“This budget’s not sustainable,” DeGroot said. “We made major cuts two years ago, about $1.3 million. We survived that because of a donation. We have virtually given our teachers no raises for the last three years. So, we’ve balanced this budget on the backs of our teachers: Part of their health insurance has increased, and we really haven’t covered all of that.”
• Insurance costs up 9%
According to information from Lueders, insurance costs have risen by nearly 9 percent for the coming year. This year employees will receive a raise: 1.25 percent of their pay as a permanent increase, and another 1.25 percent as a one-time bonus.
Along with the private donation that softened a blow to state aid in 2010, the district has kept afloat because its teachers and administrators have sacrificed pay raises over the past couple of years, DeGroot said. But also, Brookings is a “growth district,” meaning the number of students it serves continues to rise.
The school district receives money for every student, $4,521 per student this coming year (about $7.2 million total). That’s a little higher than last year – state aid was $4,487 per student during 2011-2012, including some one-time funding. But in the past, state aid had reached $4,800 per student.
“Last year we grew by 84 kids, so that brought in like $400,000 more than we had the year before. So, it really makes a difference,” DeGroot said.
But he cautioned that rising enrollment means more to the district than extra state aid. It means a looming need for more classroom space (the board and administrators have said they’ll soon need another school for grades K-3), more teachers, more support staff and generally more expenses.
“Our class sizes continually rise in the background,” DeGroot said. “It’s not one of these things that just is glaring, and we don’t know what we will do in the future.”
The superintendent encouraged patrons to take those needs into consideration when thinking about Initiated Measure 15, an item South Dakota voters will see on their ballots this November. If passed, the measure will increase South Dakota’s sales tax by 1 cent and split the proceeds between K-12 public education and Medicaid.
“We have a major initiative coming up this fall, and I don’t want people to think that we don’t need the money,” he said. “Because, we can’t sustain this budget under the present circumstances.”
• Permanent hike needed
Board president Larry Rogers agreed that the schools need a permanent increase to their funding such as Initiated Measure 15 would provide. Even Brookings can’t live on “growth money” forever.
“If we live off growth money, I mean, that’s nice in terms of our short-term survival,” Rogers said. “But its educational impact is considerable. Because, then we don’t have money to spend on curricular initiatives and stuff that we should have.”
Contact Charis Prunty at email@example.com.