The Ogden School District school board is set to meet Thursday night to discuss its yearly budget, and the big question on virtually everyone's minds is whether or not the district is going to make budget cuts due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
For now, the answer is no, but the big item for discussion on the agenda is a preliminary budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year with the key word being "preliminary."
There's uncertainty and anxiety throughout the district about potential cuts, since not much is known right now about how state/local/federal funding will be impacted. There's also some optimism.
"There are a couple of things at play. ... They weren’t talking about cutting our budget and what they meant by that is basically they were going to give us this coming year what they gave us last year ... and as long as we don’t give away the bank, then we shouldn’t necessarily have to be making any cuts. We also know that through attrition we’ll be dropping our teacher count by almost 10 teachers," district business administrator Zane Woolstenhulme told the Standard-Examiner.
Woolstenhulme added that the final legal budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which will be presented to the board Thursday, will reflect about $1 million in cost savings from the general fund — through reductions in substitute teachers, travel, field trips, utilities and such — as a result of schools shutting down due to COVID-19 earlier this year.
It appears OSD, along with school districts across the state, dodged a big bullet on Wednesday which may spare districts from making drastic cuts.
The Utah Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee recently presented a revised state budget that reflected the state's revenue loss due to COVID-19. The state budget projects a $93 million deficit in one-time funding and a $757 million deficit in ongoing funding.
However, according to a Legislature press release, the current budget proposal calls for a 1.8% increase to the weighted-pupil unit, or WPU, which is the foundational funding model for Utah's public education system.
The WPU jump was initially going to be a 6% increase; however, that was scrapped earlier this year in anticipation of a massive budget cut due to COVID-19's economic destruction.
Also, per the press release, the current state budget projects an additional $50 million in enrollment growth in the base budget, plus $125 million from CARES Act funding to boost online education and access.
The budget still has to be approved by the Legislature, meaning nothing is yet set in stone.
As it stands now, there are still line-item budget cuts in the appropriations committee's proposal.
In addition to a $60,378,500 increase in WPU funding, the proposal calls for a $13,277,200 cut in Local Education Agency "administrative costs," $7,788,000 less in "flexible allocation," $6,200,000 less in "Math/Science Opportunities for Teachers" and $2,807,900 less in "Special Education - Intensive Services."
It's unclear if those cuts can or will be covered by the WPU increase.
Even then, the COVID-19 situation could worsen and necessitate more cuts later on.
According to minutes from the board's meeting on June 4, Woolstenhulme gave a report to the board that said school districts had been advised to consider budgets with 2%, 5% or 10% cuts.
The district has gone through the exercise of what cuts of those natures would look like on a line item basis.
The preliminary 2020-21 budget calls for around $23 million more in expenses this coming fiscal year compared to last fiscal year.
Various construction projects in the district account for around $8.2 million of that increase, and another $10.8 million is coming from the district going to a self-funded insurance model.
The budget projects local revenue to increase by around $2.5 million this year, partly because it expects to see money come in from the Business Depot Ogden Redevelopment Agency.
"(We're) anticipating that we’re not actually going to see cuts to our revenue, so if it turns out that we do end up with cuts, then we will make those adjustments. But the budget is set up the way it’s set up because we really don’t know what’s happening and we will adjust as we need to," Woolstenhulme said.
The district anticipates issuing $30 million in bond proceeds this fall, per the June 4 meeting.
Funding from the CARES Act is expected to bring around $3 million that the district intends to use for personal protective equipment for students and staff, student laptops and student achievement remediation in the 2020-21 school year, according to meeting minutes.
Woolstenhulme says the district doesn't intend to increase the certified tax rate and go through a truth in taxation hearing this fall.