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Board to Take Action on Budget Adjustment Plan, Stonegate Lease
Borg Report March 15, 2019
At its regular meeting April 8, the Westonka School Board will approve a plan to deal with a $300,000 budget adjustment and will take action on a proposal to end the district’s lease agreement with Stonegate Plaza in Mound. Please take time to familiarize yourself with these proposals, and feel free to contact me directly with any questions.
Budget Adjustment Plan
As was communicated in February, the school board set a budget adjustment goal of $300,000 for 2019-2020. The current reduction plan calls for the use of $200,000 of district fund balance, which will mitigate the impact on student programming. At the April 8 board meeting, the board will approve a reduction plan that aligns staffing to school enrollments and focuses on operational spending and support positions.
As has been the case in previous years, state funding has struggled to keep up with inflationary increases to expenses. Routine underfunding of mandated programs, such as special education, further exacerbates budgetary challenges for school districts.
Westonka has been able to deal with these challenges in the past thanks to sound financial management, a stable fund balance, strong community support and growing enrollment. However, district enrollment is projected to level off in coming years, and the use of fund balance is not a sustainable solution for balancing the budget. Therefore, the board is currently looking at ways to help close this funding gap in future years.
Proposal to End Stonegate Lease
The Early Childhood Center in Stonegate Plaza currently houses the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and 3-year-old preschool programs, as well as Adventure Club child care and some special education services. The building is in need of exterior (parking, roof, etc.) and interior (e.g., carpet) repairs, and the landlord is asking for a sizable increase on our lease to help cover these improvements. Due to cost increases associated with a space that the district viewed as a short-term solution and not as safe or appropriate as our school learning environments, we propose ending this lease and moving all programming onto our school campuses, starting with the 2019-2020 school year.
Here are details of the proposal under consideration by the school board:
- The 3-year-old preschool and 3-year-old Adventure Club programs would move out of Stonegate Plaza and to Shirley Hills Primary School for the 2019-2020 school year. This would accommodate preschool registration that has already taken place based on teacher preference as opposed to location. [Note: With the exception of the location of the 3-year-old program, there would be no changes to next year’s preschool registrations]
- For 2020-2021, the plan would be to offer 4-year-old preschool at both primary school locations, aligning students with the school where they would attend kindergarten.
- ECFE programming would be offered at the Educational Service Center (ESC).
- To make this transition, the district would need to make some capital improvements to Shirley Hills and to the ESC.
In 2015, the school board established a two-phase construction plan to move the district’s early learning programming onto the school campus. Phase I of the Early Learning Center was completed in August 2017 and moved the 4-year-old preschool and Adventure Club programs onto the Hilltop Primary School campus. Phase I was paid for through the use of district and community education fund balance and the district lease levy. The project resulted in zero tax increase for Westonka residents over the prior year.
The future Phase II of the construction project will require a voter-approved bond. More study—on enrollment trends, grade configuration, programming needs, etc.—is needed before the district can go to the community with a bond referendum request. In the meantime, we feel it is necessary to move the early learning programs to a more safe and appropriate space.
Shirley Hills offers our earliest learners a secure entrance and cafeteria, as well as the Kelly Brady Nafus Memorial Playground, which is specifically designed for preschool-age children. The move to Shirley Hills would be temporary, only until the district can develop a Phase II Early Learning Center plan that the community will support.
If you have comments or questions about these proposals, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or attend the 7 p.m. school board meeting on April 8 at the ESC.