WINONA — Money is tight but on track – for now – for the Winona Area Public Schools.

Thursday night, the school board heard an update on the 2018-2019 budget and got a final look at the 2019-2020 budget, which will need to be approved before the end of the month.

District Finance Director Sarah Slaby submitted her resignation to the school board, effective July 5. She reported that the ending budget for 2018-2019 is just slightly off from where the updated budget from January predicted.

The unreserved fund balance, a line item that is a focus for the district as it works to build its reserves, will likely end the fiscal year at 3.93 percent of the overall budget, down from the anticipated 4.01 percent.

Slaby said a further drop in enrollment — which is tied to revenue both through the state funding and through local levies — impacted income for the district at the end of the year. She also said some unexpected expenses caught the district off guard.

School Board Member Karl Sonneman again criticized the method used to budget for the district, saying the district needed to make a budget and stick to that budget so it can more easily monitor its spending.

“This isn’t budgeting,” Sonneman said. “Budgeting is to have a plan for the year and monitor yourself against that plan. I’m still trying to find a way to monitor against that beginning budget.”

Slaby said the preliminary budget for 2018-2019 is still available, but the finance department gives budget updates along the year as changes occur. Most of these changes are unforeseen and out of the district’s control.

For example, she said, the district has no control over students who leave the district for various reasons, but when that happens it impacts income for the district.

The same is true of unexpected costs. Slaby noted that a washing machine at the middle school broke and needed to be replaced. That kind of cost is unexpected and cannot be planned for.

Looking forward to the 2019-2020 budget, Slaby said enrollment is on track with projections, so revenue is expected to be right in line with the budget, though that can change going forward, and, again, revisions would need to be made.

“Budgets are based on a lot of estimates,” she said. “The preliminary budget is a benchmark.”

In addition to enrollment, other assumptions the district made when creating next year’s budget are also in line. The Legislature approved a 2 percent increase to the general education funding. The district is looking at a 7.3 percent increase in medical insurance costs. And the transportation contract and utilities increases are where projections expected them.

All of this led to the $2.2 million in budget reductions that were approved in April, Slaby said.

“Our estimates now are for a 1.16 percent fund balance increase, but that’s that high because of the hot spot funding,” Slaby said. The budget included funding for three teaching positions that are not hired but available if needed for grade level increases. “If those get used, there will be a 0.57 percent fund balance increase.”

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Regional Reporter

Brian Todd is a 1997 graduate of Nebraska-Omaha. He covers Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Houston counties and writes a weekly column about the life of a reporter.