Bates hopes boost helps lead district to greater financial stability.
Some would say it was a bold, yet necessary decision made by Crookston Public Schools leadership several years ago: With incoming kindergarten class sizes dwindling, a downward trend magnified for the worse, funding-wise, when the smaller classes replaced high school graduating classes sometimes twice as large, the decision was made to ditch the half-day kindergarten program in favor of all-day, every day kindergarten (ADEK).
It would be hard to find anyone who would dispute the notion that kindergartners benefit academically and socially from an all-day, every day program. But, still, it was kind of a risky move at the time, considering that the small kindergarten classes replacing the large graduating classes triggered six-figure state education funding decreases in the district. Staff and program reductions for a while there were fast becoming an annual, unfortunate rite of spring.
But the investment in the expanded kindergarten program was made, and it would appear to have paid off. While K-12 enrollment appears to have bottomed-out in general, or at least stabilized, incoming kindergarten classes that dipped to the 80s in its latter half-day program days are now topping 100, with this year's class of around 110 the largest incoming class in years.
And now, with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton working with a Minnesota Senate and House both holding DFL majorities, starting in 2014 the state will provide funding for districts that don't have ADEK but want it. In districts like Crookston where ADEK is already in place and financed by local dollars, state funding for ADEK will come from St. Paul, too.
"We will receive this as extra revenue with no change to our expenditures," Superintendent Chris Bates said.
As is typically the case with the state's education funding formula, determining exactly how much the local school district will receive beginning next year is not the easiest nut to crack. The weighted per-pupil-unit component of the formula had meant that a kindergarten student was funded at .612 PPU, Bates explained. Now, the kindergarten funding level will be 1.0 PPU. He figures it will, factoring in a class size of 100, amount to around $240,000 in additional state revenue beginning next year.
He hopes the money helps lead the district down the path toward greater financial stability. The district has a policy that doesn't require a 10 percent general fund reserve balance, but indicates 10 percent, or around $1.2 million in current dollars, should be the board's ongoing goal. But through the leanest years and into the present, the fund balance has been significantly short of that goal.
"We need that cushion to survive emergencies, economic downturns and the like," Bates said, adding that when he was hired last year the unreserved fund balance amounted to around $250,000. The state ADEK funding will help the district "inch closer to what we need to stop being reactive and be able to look at longer-term projections moving forward," he said.
The next budget biennium will also include a bump up in the funding formula for school districts. Business Manager Laura Lyczewski said the Minnesota Department of Education is still fine-tuning its revenue spreadsheets to reflect the changes made by the legislature. She said she's holding back on making specific revenue projections for Crookston until she sees those spreadsheets.