The Grand Forks School Board approved the school district’s preliminary budget which, for the first time, calls for establishing a three-mill, special reserve fund -- a move that other North Dakota school districts, including West Fargo, are implementing.

The fund would provide nearly $700,000, of which up to $350,000 could be transferred to the school district’s general fund on an annual basis, Scott Berge, the district’s business manager told board members at their regular meeting earlier this week.

In Grand Forks, the special reserve fund could be used for emergency facility needs or other situations, as the School Board deems appropriate, he said.

In the preliminary budget, the school district is projecting expenses totaling $109,288,208, while revenue is expected to total $104,910,366 for 2019-20. The final budget is due in the county auditor’s office on Oct. 10.

"We're looking at a deficit of $4.37 million," said Berge, adding that figure will drop significantly when federal and property tax revenues are confirmed over the next two months.

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Some expenses are already known or predictable, but “federal and property tax (dollars) are more of a moving target,” he said.

About $2.5 million of that deficit is for construction and facility expenditures that are built into the budget, Berge said. The preliminary budget does not include any monies from the three-mill, special reserve fund.

The school district is projecting a 2.4% growth in revenue and a 3.3% growth in expenses in the 2019-20 school year, said Berge, adding that revenue from federal sources is expected to increase by 4%. The school district also expects a 2.2% rise in revenue from the state, most of which is in the form of per-pupil payments.

“We’re expecting about $800,000 more in per-pupil payments from the state,” Berge said. “We hope it will go up with the increase in enrollment.”

But the freeze in per-pupil payments, mandated by the Legislature, over the past two years has been problematic, because those funds represent about two-thirds of the district’s revenue, Berge said.

Because of the district’s enrollment “drop of 100-plus students, our growth in that category was stunted,” he said.

A special hearing to present the budget to the public is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Mark Sanford Education Center, 2400 47th Ave. S.

In other action, the board voted to accept applications for the seat vacated by Christopher Douthit, who resigned July 24 to take a one-year position as interim principal of Schroeder Middle School. He has served on the board for about a year.

Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. Sept. 3. The form is available on the district’s website or at the Mark Sanford Education Center, 2400 47th Ave. S. The person selected to fill the vacancy will serve until the next school board election in June.

Finally, the School Board also approved the hiring of three additional employees in special education and a grant writer. The positions were discussed and approved earlier by the board’s finance committee. School administrators have cited the increasing number of students with emotional disturbances and other special needs who require Individualized Education Programs.

The hiring of a grant writer, which will cost the district about $60,000, will allow the district to more efficiently apply for state and federal grants, administrators say.

Millions of dollars “have been left on the table” due to the district’s lack of a grant writer, according to Superintendent Terry Brenner, who said the school district would recoup 80 percent to 100 percent of the grant writer salary in the second year of employment.