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Westonka Schools Receives 'Clean' Audit Report
October 7, 2021 Borg Report
I am pleased to report that auditors at the Oct. 4, 2021 Westonka School Board meeting gave the district an unqualified or "clean" opinion—the best opinion a district can receive. The auditors reported that the district's revenues and expenses came in above target for 2020-21 due to coronavirus funding support and the pandemic’s impact on expenses.
Westonka Community Education and Services experienced over $380,000 in revenue loss last year. Emergency Executive Order 20-19 allowed Minnesota Schools to transfer funds due to COVID-19; therefore, Westonka was able to transfer last year’s community ed. debt into the district’s Long-Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) fund. This resulted in a deficit fund balance in the LTFM reserve of $505,609. The district plans to defer some of its capital expenditures and building improvements to replenish and restore the reserved fund balance, as opposed to making reductions to staffing and programs.
Westonka has an unassigned fund balance of $2,967,938, or 8.8% of general fund expenditures. The district was projected to use $7,545 of the unassigned fund balance last school year but instead ended the year increasing the balance by $106,709. Westonka relies on this fund balance to make investments in improving our educational offerings, reduce borrowing costs, and provide greater stability in light of the uncertainty of state funding.
I want to thank the Westonka Financial Services Department for its careful work and the staff at large for the discipline shown. Their efforts within our budget have helped our students reach high points of success, both at the state and national levels.
Coronavirus Relief Funds - The Westonka School District received Coronavirus Relief Fund grants of approximately $1,073,000 from the federal government. The district also received a $36,000 grant supporting students' mental and behavioral health needs which arose as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the City of Mound and the City of Orono generously allocated $605,000 in CARES Act funds to our schools, which allowed the district to cover $1.715 million in pandemic-related expenses, including distance learning coordinators and teachers, personal protective equipment (PPE), added technology, substitute teachers, and more. We are incredibly grateful for the cities’ generosity and partnership. Learn more here.
Current Year Financial Position - As is the case in school districts across the state, Westonka’s enrollment is falling short of 2020-21 projections. We are 44 students shy of where we were at this time last year. This is due to several factors related to the pandemic, including families choosing to delay kindergarten and students making other educational choices, including homeschool, online school and PSEO. This creates a revenue shortfall that our district will need to address. More information on our revised budget and budget goal will be coming by February.
2020-2021 Audit Report Now Available Online - For more detailed information, view the audited financial statement on the district website for the year ended June 30, 2021.
Strong Financial Foundation - Westonka has been successful in building a strong financial foundation. The district received the 2021 School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education, which recognizes school organizations for sound financial management policies and procedures. Westonka also holds a very high "Aa2" bond rating. Additionally, Westonka continues to have the lowest total school property taxes of all school districts in Hennepin County.
Addressing Questions about Westonka’s Absentee Ballot Board
At the Oct. 4 school board meeting, I answered a visitor question regarding the makeup of the district’s absentee ballot board for the Nov. 2 school board election.
Westonka’s absentee ballot (AB) board was established by resolution in 2013. Members of the AB board are “deputy clerks,” which refers to anyone who has been designated to carry out duties assigned by law to the school district clerk (who is a school board member).
The school district is required to staff the office for in-person absentee voting weekdays during regular business hours, 7:30 a.m. to 4/4:30 p.m., September 17 through November 1. We have averaged 1-2 in-person absentee voters per day this year. The district uses trained office staff to carry out absentee ballot duties for the majority of the absentee voting period, as opposed to paying election judges (EJs) for this purpose. In the past, the district has hired community election judges to serve on the AB board during times of high voter traffic, such as in the final weeks of the election. We will be doing so again this year.
We confirmed with Hennepin County - our district’s authority for election training and administration - that this practice is indeed legal, and it is common among other school districts and cities. Per Hennepin County elections administrators, the authority of the school district clerk and deputy school district clerks to carry out absentee ballot duties comes from Minn. Stat. § 203B.05 Subd. 2:
"For city, town, and school district elections not held on the same day as a statewide election, applications for absentee ballots shall be filed with the city, school district, or town clerk and the duties prescribed by this chapter for the county auditor shall be performed by the city, school district, or town clerk unless the county auditor agrees to perform those duties on behalf of the city, school district, or town clerk."
Hennepin County also confirmed in writing that “the accepted interpretation of [Minn. Stat. § 203B.05] is that either EJs or staff may be on the AB board, and that there is not a requirement that any EJs must serve on the AB board.”
What to Expect with In-Person Absentee Voting
- All absentee voters must fill out an Absentee Ballot Application.
- Absentee staff are responsible for checking each voter’s registration in a statewide system, issuing them a ballot (which, prior to direct balloting, the voter seals in two envelopes) and serving as their witness.
- The voter’s sealed envelope containing their ballot is sent to Hennepin County for processing.
- During direct balloting (final week before the election), absentee voters cast their ballots by inserting them directly into a ballot counter, just as they would on Election Day.
- More information can be found on the district website: 2021 School Board Election
If you have any questions about these or other topics, please feel free to contact me directly.