I’ve been hearing a lot of excitement from the community lately in regards to the positive changes ahead for our students. But, oddly enough, I’ve also been hearing many comments about our schools being “flush with cash” now that the levy has passed. I’m even hearing requests to add new things with these funds.
My response to these comments has been “I’m sorry, but NO!”
The reality is, even with the passage of the levy request, we were going to have to tighten our belt. We have a detailed plan of how we will invest our levy resources to increase school security and support our Bridge to Excellence plan. I shared this plan in the months leading up to the levy, and we will not deviate from this now.
So I began wondering why there is this misperception about our finances and why am I still being asked these questions. I believe there are two reasons: The first is the recent payback from the state of the money borrowed from our schools, and the second is confusion regarding how much of our budget is actually supported by the levy.
While the state payback is good news, we must remember this is not new revenue for our schools. This is money that was owed to us to support the work we do for our students. Think of it this way — it’s like if your employer told you it was going to hold back your paycheck for three to four months. You would still be expected to do your job. You would just have to wait a little longer before you had the money you earned in hand. This may mean you’d have to borrow money from your savings account or local bank to pay your bills until your receive payment from your employer. This is the same with the state holding back these funds to our schools.
Another cause for confusion, I believe, is that the levy that passed represents an almost 50 percent increase from our previous levy. Even though this seems like it would generate a significant increase for our budget, it actually results in a 5 percent total increase of our operating budget. Considering that we annually have inflationary increases and expenses in the range of 4-6 percent, coupled with state aid that has been relatively flat, the new levy revenue provides us with more stable funding but certainly does not create a situation where we are “flush with cash.”
So, what are our plans to tighten our belt and invest our levy dollars wisely? We are already beginning work to:
• Develop a balanced budget philosophy and implement practices to match our revenues with expenditures.
• Continue implementing tighter budget controls and oversight while redirecting resources in the classrooms.
• Continue creating careful and thoughtful long-range plans to meet the needs of our students.
• Complete extensive salary and benefit comparisons during employee negotiations, with a focus on balancing the desire to attract and retain quality employees with the realities of our budget.
• Examine the use of our existing non-voter-approved levies to determine if there is an opportunity to lower the tax impact for our residents.
• Implement the community-driven Bridge to Excellence Plan to grow programs within our schools and retain and attract students.
• Continue finding ways to save money, tighten our belt and say “no” to requests outside of what was communicated for the use of the levy dollars.
Will our new levy help us maintain our status as an excellent school district? Yes! Will it help us to grow and improve programming for our students? Most certainly, yes. Will it cause us to be “flush with cash” and not require us to continue looking for efficiencies, to be innovative and resourceful? Absolutely not!
Stay tuned for more information on how these levy dollars will be used to maintain and grow programs for our students. In this time of winter holidays I am thankful for your continued support of our schools and wishing you and yours the best during this time.
Stillwater Area Schools Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted at [email protected] or 651-351-8301.