District to Discuss Funding at School Board Meeting

SARTELL — Sartell-St. Stephen school leaders know they could have some financial challenges and a potential space issue at one of their schools. 

On Monday, they will examine budget and enrollment projections as they start talking about what could be some difficult financial times and a space crunch. A discussion about a possible referendum in 2011 could come early next year.

No decisions are expected in the short term, but the meeting will be the start of a discussion to help prepare the district as issues approach, said Superintendent Joe Hill, who started in the district July 1.

“It is a time for us to pull together around the data and have open and honest discussions (about) what the reality is,” Hill said.

Sartell-St. Stephen is designing budget discussions around the potential that it could receive no increase in state money in the next two years. That means the district would have to rely on reserve dollars to cover increased expenses, make reductions or do some of both.

In addition, the district has a voter-approved property tax increase that expires after 2011 that will have to be renewed or the district would have to reduce its budget by $1 million in 2012-2013. It is unlikely Sartell board members would not ask voters to renew. Board members said during the election campaign that the choice is between renewing and asking for additional money. Hill said discussions about a potential referendum would probably take place in January.

Sartell-St. Stephen continues to grow its enrollment at a healthy clip without open enrollment, which the district prohibits. The district has more than 3,400 students in two elementary schools, a middle school and high school.

The enrollment growth helps sustain the budget but has put pressure on Pine Meadow Elementary School, Hill said.

The school was built for 750 students, and enrollment is exceeding that, Hill said.

Hill said the school could continue without changes for a year or two and the district needs to stay true to previous space planning.

“I don’t think we are in the position to talk about options. We need to honor work of past administrations,” Hill said.

Pine Meadow Principal Greg Johnson said he has 780 students in the school that serves kindergarten through grade four. He said some open spaces had to be closed off to create additional rooms and that six of the 32 classrooms are above the district’s goal of 25 students in a class.

“Our people are making it work, but we are certainly feeling the crunch,” Johnson said. “I think the district’s long-range plan is that we will have continuous growth.”

Board Chairwoman Julie Zupfer Anderson said Monday’s discussion will help the board with decisions down the road.

“It is what we need to be doing to maintain programs and look at where we are going,” Zupfer Anderson said.

Taken from the St. cloud Times.  Sunday, November 14, 2010.  Written by Dave Aeikens.