Because the district’s financial limitations go beyond reduced student enrollment. Lower numbers of students over the past few years would have required the district to make approximately $4 million in budget reductions. Instead, the district has seen $7.5 million in reductions in programs and services to students.
Lower enrollment in Forest Lake Area Schools is due to a variety of factors. There are fewer school-age children in our district now than there were a decade ago, and there are also more school choice options with open enrollment, homeschool and local charter schools.
Because of the lower enrollment, funding from the state, which is calculated based on the number of students, has decreased.
At the same time, our district must still provide comprehensive learning opportunities for all students. Some classes only decline by three or four students, so a teacher is still required. Lower enrollment does not eliminate the need to offer world language options, music options, career and technical education programs, AP and college credit courses, just to name a few. These programs are expensive, yet vital, regardless of the number of students enrolled in the district.
In addition, operating costs continue to rise. The district’s budget is impacted by inflation in the same way our residents’ family budgets are impacted. The costs of instructional resources, utilities, buses, salaries, repairs and maintenance also increase over time.
More importantly, there are other factors at work with our district’s budget.
Over the past several years, Forest Lake Area Schools has been deeply impacted by the fact that state funding has not kept up with the rate of inflation. Over the past 25 years, Minnesota’s per-pupil funding has steadily fallen short, to the point where there is a gap of $2,500 per pupil between what the state provides today, and what would have been provided if funding had simply followed the rate of inflation. Compounding this, the District has not had an increase in its voter approved operating levy in the last 12 years.
So far, the staff and leadership of Forest Lake Area Schools have been able to provide a high quality education for students with limited budget resources. However, the community should be aware that if current funding trends continue, additional reductions are on the horizon. In the past, the district was able to shield the classroom education and student services from much of the cuts. Today, without a successful operating levy, the next round of cuts will significantly and negatively impact those previously protected budget areas.
Finally, it’s important to note that this levy referendum funding is tied to student enrollment, providing an additional $825 per pupil. If student enrollment continues to decline, the total levy amount provided each year would also decrease. Taxpayers will only pay for the actual number of students who are enrolled in the district.