Willmar Schools adjust budget to reflect pandemic effects

Apr. 16—WILLMAR — Willmar Public Schools will have a larger than expected budget deficit this year due to the effects of the pandemic.

The Willmar School Board adopted a revised 2020-21 budget at its meeting Monday.

Due to the effects of the pandemic, revenue has been reduced in some areas and increased in others. The same goes for expenditures.

Business and Finance Director Kathryn Haase said, “Being down about 200 students is really the primary reason the deficit for this year is greater.”

State aid to schools is based on average daily enrollment, so fewer students mean less funding.

Enrollment was originally projected to be 4,251 students this school year. The revised projection is 4,052, Haase said.

The drop in enrollment will be reflected in revenue next year, too, she said.

In response to board member questions, Haase said school officials know most of the students who have left the district have not enrolled in other area districts. Others may have left for a variety of reasons, including homeschooling or online schools. Some families probably moved out of the district, too.

There’s a possibility that enrollment could rebound as the pandemic recedes, she said.

The district normally adopts a revised budget midway through the year. State law requires school districts to adopt their budgets before the fiscal year begins July 1. However, information about grants and state revenue is not available at that time.

A revised budget is adopted to provide a clearer picture of the year’s income and spending.

Projected revenue has dropped more than $1 million, to $60.3 million. Expenditures have been adjusted down nearly $500,000, to $62 million. While the district had anticipated deficit spending this year, it will be higher now, projected at $1.7 million.

This year, local revenues have been lower, with the loss of student activity fees and much lower gate receipts as the pandemic limited activities.

State revenues have been about $2 million lower due to lower enrollment.

Federal revenue has increased nearly $3 million, thanks to pandemic aid approved by Congress.

However, that money has limited uses, Haase said. It has been used to purchase supplies to improve safety and distancing in the school buildings, and it was used to purchase iPads for elementary students. That allowed the district to improve its distance learning.

Additional federal funding, about $4 million, was received last week, and more will be coming later in the year, Haase said. So far the district has received more than $6.6 million.

The latest funding is aimed at helping schools address student academic and developmental needs in the aftermath of the pandemic.

An expanded summer school program using federal funds is in the works.

Federal funding has arrived in different “buckets,” each with different rules for how and when the money is to be spent. The state and Kandiyohi County have distributed some of their federal pandemic aid to schools, too.

Haase offered a word of caution to the board about using the federal funding.

“One-time funds are always best spent on one-time things,” Haase said. “We need to plan for the time when the federal funds run out.”

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