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Statewide E-12 bill means at least another $344,000 for East Grand Forks Public Schools

Gov. Tim Walz last week signed an E-12 public education bill that includes increases to the state's per-pupil funding formula this coming school year and the next. The first of those two raises could mean another $344,000 for East Grand Forks Public Schools, assuming enrollment, which dipped during the pandemic, stays flat.

East Grand Forks tower sign logo.jpg
A water tower in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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An 11th-hour deal among St. Paul lawmakers could mean another $350,000 to $400,000 for East Grand Forks Public Schools.

Minnesota legislators last week agreed to a statewide E-12 funding bill that contains relatively few policy changes but offers hikes to school districts’ per-pupil funding formula that haven’t been seen since the Pawlenty administration. It was one of several bills Gov. Tim Walz signed into law last Wednesday evening , narrowly avoiding a shutdown of the state government.

That funding formula is the financial bread and butter for public schools across the state and, assuming the deal stands pat, it's set to rise 2.45% for the 2021-2022 school year and 2% the year after that.

Locally, that increase would yield another $344,209 for East Grand Forks Public Schools next school year, according to district staff, assuming enrollment, which dipped during the pandemic, doesn’t recover.

“We’ve budgeted very conservatively on the revenue side,” Superintendent Mike Kolness told the Herald.

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If students return to the district, that would push the estimated funding hike higher, but, for the moment, the district’s 2021-22 budget assumes it will see no new or returning students and no new per-pupil funding. That’s at least partly why East Grand Forks Public School’s preliminary budget for the current fiscal year, which School Board members approved unanimously last week, has a $1.1 million operating deficit. District leaders are set to finalize that budget this winter after accounting for actual student enrollment and setting property tax levies in the fall.

A starting point for union talks

Even if it’s not yet codified in the school district’s books, the funding increase is important because it sets a starting point of sorts for district officials and the East Grand Forks Education Association, the local teachers’ union, when leaders from each work to hammer out a contract for the coming two school years. Union members’ current contract expires at the end of the month, and whatever agreement they reach with the district would be made retroactive to July 1.

Union and district staff met on Monday, but they’re not set to start negotiations on their next contract in earnest until July 13.

That per-pupil funding formula is the largest state revenue stream for Minnesota school districts, but it’s not the only one. Union leaders indicated they hadn’t yet heard how some of those other funding sources, grants and so on -- some of which are earmarked for specific purposes -- had shaken out.

“It’s pretty hard to figure out what percentages we would like to have until we get all that information,” said Todd Schumacher, a longtime East Grand Forks science teacher who heads the local union.

Current contract

A 2019 E-12 funding bill increased the statewide funding formula by 2% during the 2019-20 school year and another 2% in the 2020-21 year, but it’s tricky to determine if Eastside teacher salaries kept up -- or used up -- those funding increases in those years. That’s because the contract under which East Grand Forks teachers are currently working relies on a grid of “steps” and “lanes” that, in effect, stipulates how much a given worker’s salary should be based on education and experience: get another school year under your belt and move into a higher-paying step; get a master’s degree, for instance, and move over into a more lucrative lane.

The union’s current contract with the district made that grid 1.8% more lucrative in 2019-20 and 1.5% in '20-21, but that’s not quite the same as overall payroll increases because East Grand Forks teachers aren’t spread evenly across it. Teachers' total compensation increased by 4.94% and 2.15% in those years, according to district staff.

The district’s budget also doesn’t include about $2.64 million worth of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money that the district has yet to allocate. That money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed by former President Donald Trump in the spring of 2020.

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Mike Kolness
Mike Kolness

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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