The Finance Committee of the Grand Forks School Board is planning to recommend that about $4.4 million be cut from the school district’s budget for the 2021-22 school year. The board is expected to consider the plan at its next meeting, April 12.
If approved, eight teacher positions will be eliminated as part of a reduction in force, in addition to other adjustments to counteract the district’s rapidly declining fund balance.
A total of 26.215 full-time-equivalent positions would be affected by this plan, but most of the budget reductions in staff would be realized through attrition – those who choose to quit for various reasons and then the district wouldn't be rehiring for the positions – and retirement, said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager.
“We’re going to move some teachers and other staff around into positions that are being vacated, through either attrition or retirement, and then not backfilling positions,” Berge said. “So, for the most part, we’re trying to lean down positions, where available, without significantly impacting student opportunities and learning opportunities.”
The committee has not made final decisions concerning specific personnel cuts. Those questions are still being worked out with school principals and others, Berge said. But the group does plan to bring to the April 12 board meeting a list of positions, including the names of individuals who would be impacted if the cuts are approved.
Increasing pressure on revenues, coupled with substantial investments in facilities, has led to a steadily decreasing fund balance, which can’t continue for another school year, Berge said.
The district is operating this year with a $5.7 million deficit budget, which includes COVID-related expenses and construction needs, Berge said. “And that’s not sustainable.”
Finance Committee members are Berge; Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education; Jody Thompson, associate superintendent of elementary education; Superintendent Terry Brenner, all non-voting members; and School Board members Doug Carpenter, Amber Flynn, Shannon Mikula and Bill Palmiscno.
Given the five-year budget forecast that Berge has developed and presented to the Financial Committee, the committee has set a goal of a 10% overall budget reduction to be realized over the next two academic years. Ten percent of the district’s budget is roughly $11 million, Berge said.
So far in the 2021 session of the North Dakota Legislature, lawmakers have not yet finalized the state’s per-pupil payment rate, he said. It could remain unchanged, but recent indications “don’t lead us to believe it will be more than 1%.”