Staring at a potential $6.7 million budget deficit for the 2022-23 budget, the Sun Prairie School Board revisited its “Big Rocks” budget discussion from previous years, but took no final action on any definite moves to save money.

Phil Frei, Director of Business & Finance for the Sun Prairie Area School District, asked for the board to reaffirm most recent “big rocks” that carry over to future budget years, discuss new priorities and items no longer a priority, then focus on items over $250,000 with an eye towards alignment of budget goals and priorities to the district’s strategic plan (currently in the midst of an update).

Frei presented a PDF (find it with the online version of this story at sunprairiestar.com) revisiting many of the financial hurdles facing the district:

State funding — A $0 increase in the revenue cap and/or per pupil aid. Frei said typically SPASD receives $1.6 million

Declining enrollment — The report from the UW Applied Population Lab projecting a third consecutive year of decreased student enrollment now labels SPASD as a declining enrollment district and will have an impact on state aid — which will be about $1.6 million less in revenue than past years and will total is $3.2 million less in funding and faces a possible decrease in Title 1 funding.

Expenses — The district is committed to include providing cost of living allowance (COLA) increases based on the consumer price index. With the CPI expected to be 5%, that could have an estimated budget impact of $3 million.Professional growth advancement will cost another $500,000, and Frei said inflation in other budgets will cost an estimated $250,000.

Adding the $3.2 million revenue loss to the $3.5 million in possible expenditure increases brings the deficit to $6.7 million, according to Frei.

Big Rocks

Frei reminded the board of its board-initiated budget additions — referred as ‘Big Rocks’ because of their size and once they get moving are difficult to stop:

Wellness Clinic: $400,000. The SPASD and the City of Sun Prairie jointly opened the Wellness Clinic inside the Sun Prairie Dean Clinic at 10 Tower Drive for the employees of both entities to help control health insurance costs and provide some preventative treatment as well as non-emergent health care.

Community Programs: $600,000. Although not specifically discussed, Sun Prairie Community Schools has been among the chief expenses in this area as well as the expansion of school food pantries.

Professional Growth Compensation: $500,000/year.

COLA Increases (CPI-U): $1-2M/year.

Possible solutions

Frei said the possibility exists to use some of the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Recovery (ESSER) 3 dollars to cover a portion of costs in the budget, such as summer school and legal expenses. Frei warned the board about future budget ramifications that may arise from using one-time funds to cover ongoing expenses.

In addition, Gov. Tony Evers released an additional $1.1 million in COVID-19 aid to the SPASD which could also be used to help fill some of the deficit.

Frei also suggested using some 2021-22 conserved funds to pre-fund 2022-23 expenses. When asked for an example, Frei said if a new truck is budgeted for 2022-23, it could be purchased from money in 2021-22 as long as the truck is used during this year.

Other potential solutions include using Fund 46 Capital Improvement Fund dollars to fund capital items in the budget (board member Caren Diedrich said these expenses should only be necessary projects, such as those to fix safety-related issues) and the use of $2.8 million in board-designated budget stabilization fund balance.

Although the board took no formal action, the consensus among board members was that Frei and Assistant Superintendent of Operations Janet Rosseter formulate some combination of expense reduction, fund balance use and using ESSER 3 and one-time dollars and return to the board with a plan the board could discuss in more detail.

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