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Duluth School Board reviews limited budget

The Duluth School Board has two days to approve a 2018-2019 general fund budget it was presented with Tuesday in order to keep the district operating come July 1.

The 2018-2019 initial budget deficit is more than $1.6 million with $2.5 million in new investments, bringing the total shortfall to $4.1 million. On Tuesday, the board was presented with general fund revenues and expenditures that align with the preliminary budget the board approved in March.

The board is expected to approve the budget framework during a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, allowing the district to continue running. State law requires school districts to approve a final fiscal year budget prior to July 1. The law does not require a full detailed budget to be approved, just general fund revenue and expenditure amounts.

Superintendent Bill Gronseth said board members can expect a full detailed budget brought to them sometime in July after an outside financial firm, Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium, has had a chance to review it. He said he will first meet with ARCC on Monday.

"We are going to start from the beginning of reviewing our projected enrollments because that is the basis for everything else," Gronseth said. "We will be going through all of our information with them and we'll becoming back (to the board) when they finish their work to make sure that everything that we have in place is correct."

The budget shows a projected fund balance of $232,923 for the 2018-2019 budget. Gronseth said he is "hesitantly optimistic" about the numbers presented to the board.

"I expect that there are going to be some differences, but at this point I don't know what those difference are going to be yet," he said. "I think at the end of the day (the final number) will be close, but there might be some different numbers in different columns." Board member Alanna Oswald said she had some problems with approving the budget because of a lack of detail — she doesn't know what she's voting on.

"This process is really a tough thing to swallow. I feel like we are putting the cart before the horse in having and being forced to vote on this," she said. "I feel a certain amount of frustration ... because if push comes to shove and that second meeting in July never happens then you can move forward with the amounts we approved."

In March, the board approved a preliminary budget with more than $3.9 million in cuts and about another $200,000 in cuts remaining to be identified in the unrestricted general fund.

Reductions in the preliminary budget included professional development, staff in special services, AmeriCorps positions, test proctors, elimination of open positions in maintenance, gas and fuel costs for transportation, overtime for drivers, delaying purchase of a van for the district and delaying the addition of telepresence.

The district is also saving money through staff members retiring, insurance costs being below projection and by adding a fee for trip coordination. One of the biggest savings made and approved in the preliminary budget was shifting class-size ratios by one in all levels except kindergarten.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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