GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Public Schools officials are due to meet next week to determine how they might spend the extra money they are expected to receive each year from area homeowners.
Grand Forks voters approved a $10 million property tax in September that will bring in the district about $2.5 million a year — money to pay for a long list of upkeep and maintenance projects when it comes. will start next month. But district leaders have yet to determine where that money will go: should they spend some of it each year and save the rest for a larger maintenance project in a few years? Borrow a larger sum of money and use the levy money to pay it back over a period of years? If yes how much ?
They plan to meet on Wednesday, February 9 to resolve some of these issues, but there are also larger, intertwined issues to consider. School officials will ultimately have to decide how to carry out a plan to build up Grand Forks Public Schools’ cash reserves, as well as how much money they want to spend beyond the 2, $5 million a year produced by voting last fall, and if they’d seek to supplement that money with yet another building referendum.
District leaders have agreed to replenish their general fund balance — think savings account — from $7.4 million this school year to about $17.8 million in the 2025-26 school year. , a figure they estimate will represent about 15% of the total general fund of Grand Forks Public Schools. expenses. That will mean an average of $1.5 million in cuts to the general fund budget each year of this plan, according to Scott Berge, district business manager.
For now, however, that plan is more or less just numbers on paper. District staff are meeting “in-house” to work out what cuts would be needed to achieve the plan.
“Here’s where the rubber hits the road,” Berge told the Herald. “That’s where there will be a variety of meetings to work out what will make up those numbers.”
However, district officials will have to balance this effort with the sometimes pressing maintenance needs of their buildings.
Three general fund “withdrawal” ideas
Now that the district has about an additional $2.5 million to spend each year on mid- to long-term maintenance and renovations, this likely frees up money in its general fund that otherwise would have been devoted to this type of project. But that money is dwarfed by the size and cost of the work, which district staff estimated last summer would cost about $260.9 million, in total – $202.4 million worth of additional work. needed on rooftops, parking lots, and heating and cooling systems, plus about $60 million more for major but less structurally necessary work, such as security systems and accessibility measures, Berge said. Thursday.
Grand Forks Public Schools staff presented district finance committee members with three scenarios on Tuesday that outline increasingly aggressive plans to pay for repairs on this list.
The cheapest of these scenarios would still spend—“draw”—$500,000 from the district general fund, despite the new drawdown, and reclaim, at least in the 2022-23 school year, approximately $1.1 million. federal COVID-19 aid dollars that district administrators budgeted for staff they were unable to hire, such as social workers, English teachers and special education therapists. That money, combined with some $2.5 million from the new property tax, means a grand total of $4.1 million to work with next year.
The costliest and most drastic idea would pull in $6 million from the general fund each year, in addition to taking advantage of leftover money from vacancies and money from levies — $9.6 million in total, more or less. But that $6 million has to come from somewhere, and documents provided to finance committee members Tuesday indicate that about 84 jobs should be cut from the school district’s payroll.
That, Berge said, is a kind of “doomsday” scenario, assuming the district isn’t able to find additional funding or receive another positive referendum vote. Brenda Lewis, deputy superintendent of elementary education for the district, told members of the finance committee that budget discussions should include “the potential impact on the trajectory of our students.”
“We need to balance teaching and learning in this area, and it’s unfair to tell staff ‘do more with less,'” Lewis said Tuesday.
School board member Doug Carpenter said he understands Lewis’s point, “but we’re also going to have to pay the facility bills, and where will the money come from?”
Related to, but separate from these considerations, district leaders will also need to agree on the ins and outs of another potential funding request from area voters.
District staff presented three potential referendum plans to members of the finance committee on Tuesday.
The first is to propose no further referendums and use funds already in place to repair district buildings, which district staff say is not financially viable, even with substantial expenditures from the general fund.
The second potential plan: seek voter approval to replace Valley Middle School, which would be costly but would render the building’s many maintenance issues moot, and use existing district funding sources to work on the rest of its buildings.
The third plan would seek voter approval for money to replace Valley and extensively renovate Schroeder Middle School and South Middle School.
Berge estimated that a referendum to replace Valley would total about $42.5 million, and a referendum to replace and renovate Schroder and South would total about $82.7 million.
Board member Bill Palmiscno suggested dividing potential referendums into chunks to be voted on every few years.
“I think the first step is to take care of Valley,” he said Tuesday. “And, maybe, in two years, take care of South and Schroeder. Now your colleges are irrelevant, and this spreads referendums not all at once. I think 82 million all of a sudden is too much. But I think Valley alone is something we could skip.