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LUHS to tackle looming deficit projection

Lakeland Union.jpg
Erin Gottsacker
Lakeland Union High School

The Lakeland school board and administration aren’t waiting until a projected $737,000 deficit hits home in the next budget cycle. They’re acting now to address the anticipated deficit.

The board emphasized the projected deficit was simply that – a projection, and not an actual draft of the budget for the coming year.

But, district administrator Claire Martin noted the deficit is still significant and needs to be addressed.

The school board Monday directed Martin and her administrative team to come up with recommendations on fiscal reduction options that would cover four broad areas in the 2022-23 budget.

They include using some of the district’s fund balance, which is an account of several million dollars used to carry the district when property tax revenues and state and federal aid are low or non-existent.

Other possible measures include program reductions, like staff reductions, since staff salary and benefits comprise some 80 percent of the district’s expenditures.

Or, the district could use some of the federal ESSER III funds, which consists of about $1 million over a 3-year grant cycle to close the deficit gap.

Finally, the district could receive more federal impact aid than listed in this budget forecast. That would help close the anticipated deficit by a considerable amount.

In her report to the board, Martin lists several other recommended areas for the board to consider, including a freeze on department budgets, adding user fees for sports and activities and using more part-time employees.

However, Martin noted, listing a discipline such as English for less than full time may make it difficult to find a candidate to fill that position.

The $737,000 number would climb even more if the board commits some $200,000 in 2022-23 budget as part of its five-year capital improvements plan, along with an additional $100,000 for new Chrome books for all students.

Barry Seidel cautioned fellow board members to consider program reductions as a last option.

He said the district provides a high-quality education for its diverse student population.

“This school is a huge asset to the community,” he said, adding, that the education mission would suffer if they don’t have “right people” in those positions.

Martin asked the board to carefully consider the recommendations when they are presented, as they represent many hours of discussion and research by multiple people.

“When you’re looking at budget reductions, you need to look under every stone and examine it in terms of whether you’re getting the value that you need for the district as a whole,” she said. “There is likely another referendum in your future and probably in the near future.”

Board member Pam Carrol said the board should hold a special meeting just on the budget, which was supported by other board members.

In other actions Monday, the board approved a school calendar that sets Sept. 1 for the first day for new students and Sept. 2 for all students in the 2022-23 school year.

The board also approved hiring a director of teaching and learning (curriculum director) at an estimated cost of $140,000 (salary and benefit package). The district will post that position.

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