District leaders want to avoid having to make another mid-year downward budget adjustment.

The 2019-20 preliminary budget for the Crookston School District continues a recent trend of especially conservative student enrollment projections, as school board members, Superintendent Jeremy Olson and Business Manager Laura Lyczewski try to avoid a mid-year budget pinch spurred by a continued pattern of declining enrollment.

The Minnesota Department of Education calculates student enrollment using a formula entitled “average daily membership,” which closely coincides with the actual number of students. For 2019-20, the Crookston district’s projected ADM is 1,082 students. Each student brings in around $9,000 in state funding.

“We thought we’d been conservative in recent years, but it’s come back to bite us every year,” Board Chair Frank Fee said. “There are some positive signs that things are turning around; hopefully we’ll be able to realize that.”

The opening day enrollment estimate in September is 1,108, Olson said. But with the recent trend having enrollment decline as the school year progresses, sometimes a significant amount, the budget includes the ADM of 1,082. (For comparison purposes, on the first day of the 2018-19 school year, student enrollment was 1,124. By the end of the school year, it was 1,102.

Olson said the budget at this point isn’t exactly what he’d call a “worst case” assumption, but when it comes to projected expenses in general, the superintendent said the most costly assumption is being made to make sure the budget is as conservative as possible. He used the cost of diesel fuel as an example, an expense that in recent years has ranged from $2 a gallon to $4 a gallon. “In this budget, we err on the side of $4 diesel,” Olson said. “This budget has a lot of maximum expenses.”

Although the preliminary budget shows that the district has a solid fund balance of approximately $4.3 million, it projects at this point that the district will dip into the fund by around $300,000. The deficit-spending comes after the board approved a budget-reduction package totaling approximately $400,000 this past spring. “I feel pretty good about where we’re sitting now compared to where we were,” Olson said. “I feel the reductions were adequate.”

Other things included in the preliminary budget include the purchase of one new school bus for $110,000, an investment of $100,000 in curriculum, and $150,000 in technology. While it doesn’t include an anticipated increase in labor costs spurred by the anticipated new contract agreement with the teacher’s bargaining unit, the Crookston Education Association, Lyczewski noted that the preliminary budget does include salary increases to teachers that coincide with step and lane advancements. 

Fee said he hopes the board will soon know the exact budget impact from the new contract with the CEA. He said the initial negotiations session with the CEA negotiations team went very well, and he hopes the momentum continues when the two sides sit down again on Friday, June 28. “Maybe we’ll get something done,” Fee said.