The Monona Grove School District’s budget for 2020-21 remains uncertain due to COVID-19.

The school district’s business manager, Jerrud Rossing, presented proposed budget highlights at the Monona Grove School Board’s annual meeting and budget hearing Sept. 14 at Monona Grove High School.

Rossing called the coming year’s budget both “unique” and “boring.”

While a zero percent tax levy increase was proposed over 2019-20, Rossing said the school district still faces possible increased expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic, based on when students might return to school in-person.

Tax levy

Following Rossing’s presentation, the school board approved a $30.36 million tax levy for 2020-21, which Rossing called a zero-percent increase from $30.38 million in 2019-20.

Rossing said the district’s estimated tax rate for 2020-21 is $12.86 per $1,000 of property value. That’s down from $13.15 in 2019-20.

Rossing said Cottage Grove is undergoing a property revaluation, which could affect its mill rate.

Rossing estimates Monona Grove will have 3,490 students this year. That number was finalized on Sept. 18 and plays a role in determining how much state aid the district receives, Rossing said.

The district’s budget is also impacted by equalized property values, which will be finalized Oct. 1. Monona Grove’s estimated equalized value is $2.4 million, a 3.5 percent increase from 2019-20.

This year’s general fund budget, Rossing said, is $45.2 million. That’s up two percent, or about $1 million, from $44.2 million in from 2019-20.

Superintendent Daniel Olson said the district had a $500,000 deficit coming into the 2020-21 school year, and administrators made cuts to offset that.

The district has a fund balance of about $9 million, the same as 2019-20.

Rossing said 76 percent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits for employees.

Facilities referendum

Monona Grove’s budget could be impacted by two referendums, one that passed in 2018, and one on the ballot in November.

Voters approved a $57 million facilities referendum in 2018 to build Granite Ridge Elementary School in Cottage Grove, which is now under construction off Buss Road and County Highway BB.

The referendum is also funding renovations to other Monona Grove facilities.

Monona Grove has about $116.67 million in total outstanding debt, which is scheduled to be paid off in May 2039. The district will pay about $6.8 million toward the debt service this year.

Rossing said the district is in the second year of this referendum, during which the majority of construction work will be done. The district will spend about $31 million of the $57 million referendum in 2020-21.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of budget uncertainty for Monona Grove, Rossing said.

Because the goal is still to bring students back to school in-person sometime this year, unexpected costs could come up after the budget is finalized, Rossing said.

Rossing said money the district could potentially save due to schools being closed to students is being reallocated to pay for other things.

The district isn’t seeing a lot of utility savings, even though students aren’t attending in-person, because school buildings are still open to staff. While buses aren’t taking students to and from school, they’re being used to deliver meals, he said.

And the district isn’t keen on spending money that was allocated for fall sports, Rossing said, in case students are able to play fall sports this spring.

Rossing also said savings due to COVID-19 is being used to buy protective equipment, technology, or other COVID-spending.

State aid

Rossing said school districts across the state are facing uncertainty about how much state aid will be offered this year. Rossing said a state budget deficit is anticipated, and school funding could potentially be cut.

Monona Grove expects to receive about $14.57 million in state aid, Rossing said. State aid amounts will be finalized in October.

Operating referendum

The district’s financial picture could change on Nov. 3, based on whether voters adopt a $3.7 million operating referendum.

Monona Grove has a five-year operating referendum that began in 2016, and sunsets in 2021. It allowed the district to collect an additional $2.6 million from taxpayers above the revenue limit.

Voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to approve a new operating referendum, for $3.7 million for four years.

The school board opted to increase the referendum amount from $2.6 million to $3.7 million, to account for inflation, make teacher salaries competitive and offset potential state aid losses due to COVID-19.

The tax impact would be $40 per $100,000 of property value, for four years.

The Monona Grove School District expects to adopt its final budget before Nov. 1.

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