W-M Schools will benefit from increased state funding

WMHS LogoNew education funding provisions agreed upon during the 2013 legislative session are expected to give Watertown-Mayer schools a big boost during the upcoming fiscal years.

In the beginning of the year, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposed large increases in spending on early childhood through higher education. Overall, the final agreement on the Minnesota Education Finance Bill appropriates $485 million over the FY14-15 biennium, or the next two years.

This $485 million will be spread over 339 independent school districts and other intermediate districts, integration districts, tribal schools, cooperative districts, telecommunications districts and charter schools. Watertown-Mayer ISD No. 111 will be among those that benefit in the FY14-15 biennium.

In FY14, the Watertown-Mayer school district will see an increase of $192,168, or about $104 per student, and in FY15, the increase will be $660,616 or about $357 per student. This money is partially driven by an increased formula allowance, which is a certain amount of money given to the district per student. The state has allowed for an increased formula allowance by 1.5 percent per year, which equals $78 per pupil in FY14 and $80 per pupil in FY15.

In the Watertown-Mayer district, the formula per pupil was $5,224 in FY14. It has increased to $5,302 in FY14 and $5,806 in FY15, which is an upturn of $78 and $504 per pupil, respectively.

Additionally, the state has reworked the weighting of the formula. Beginning in FY15, all-day Kindergarten pupil weights will go from 0.612 to 1.0. Grades 1-3 will change from 1.115 to 1.0, grades 4-6 from 1.06 to 1.0, and grades 7-12 will change from 1.3 to 1.2. Watertown-Mayer Superintendent Dave Marlette described this weighting by explaining that if he had 1,000 pupils in grades 7-12, he would actually get paid for 1,200 pupils, equating it to picking up 200 new students.

Of the $504 increase per pupil, $80 was a result of inflation, but the rest was because of the reworking of the weighting formula. Marlette said that every new student that comes into his district brings in about $7,500 of new overall revenue, but it also works in the opposite way if the district were to lose students.

“Every student that comes into my door brings in an extra value of $7,500, but then the opposite of that, every student that leaves lowers my revenue by $7,500,” Marlette said.

Watertown-Mayer has not received any new funding for 5 years, except for a $50 increase per pupil that was given to them during the last legislative session. That increase was a result of the state beginning to provide money for the district to pay interest on the loan that it had taken out when the state withheld or shifted away $4.1 million from the Watertown-Mayer district over the past 5 years.

During the shift, the state withheld money allocated to the schools because they could not borrow money from outside sources, but the districts could secure outside loans.

“Now, with the economy getting better and the state having additional funds, one of the things that they are obligated to do is pay the schools back that borrowed, or shifted money,” Marlette explained. It is the 2013 State Legislature’s goal to pay back all of the shifted dollars to all of the Minnesota school districts.

This payback of shifted dollars is not new money for the Watertown-Mayer District.  This money has been recognized as past revenue in the district’s audits and is simply paying back a loan to each district.

“So now, if [the shifted money] comes, all that does is take care of paying back the money that we have had to borrow over the past few years,” said Marlette.

Much of the new state allocated money will be used to fund all-day Kindergarten in the 2014-2015 school year, which means hiring new staff and paying for the program expenses. In the past, the Watertown-Mayer district had charged families up to $1,500 per student for all-day kindergarten. Those who could not afford this had to forego the full-day option, unless they received scholarships from the school.

While Marlette said that 90 percent of the district’s pupils were already attending full-day Kindergarten, the funding for free all-day Kindergarten will hopefully bring in some of that remaining 10 percent. It will also help parents avoid additional fees for their child to attend all-day kindergarten.

“I feel it is the best spent money that we can spend,” Marlette said. “Educating kids at that age, learning what they need to learn, just gets them off to such a good start that it is so important at that age.”

All-day Kindergarten is one of the categories of that state funding. Some of the others include health and safety, deferred maintenance and education. Certain districts in Minnesota, such as in Minneapolis, will be given additional funding for English Language Learners if they have a high population of students from other countries. The Watertown-Mayer district does not have a high population of these students, meaning they will not receive funding in that category.

According to Marlette, the Watertown-Mater district will use some of the funding to unfreeze staff salaries that have been frozen for the past few years. It will also be used to do some building and grounds maintenance that was held off because of a lack of funds, curriculum expansion to make it more current, and improve the development of technology in the district. During the past 4 years when funding was static, the Watertown-Mayer district was forced to make $2.1 million in cuts, which included many programs.

“With frozen state revenue increases these past few years, we were going backwards because expenses were increasing greatly,” Marlette said.

The new funding will hopefully stop that backwards movement and start the district growing slightly. Marlette is optimistic, as he has seen growth in the district with new houses and new families.

Students, parents and educators can also be optimistic about the state funding in Minnesota. As Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said, “Gov. Mark Dayton deserves credit for presenting a budget without the use of shifts from schools or other legislative gimmicks. He’s building a strong fiscal foundation for Minnesota.”

— By Greta Sowles. Contact Greta Sowles at [email protected]