School gets relief from state

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2002

Another important provision for the Albert Lea Community was added to a budget-balancing bill the state legislature passed Wednesday.

The House and Senate agreed to appropriate $750,000 over four years, starting with $300,000 in the next fiscal year, to School District 241 to compensate for declining enrollment as a result of a Farmland fire last year.

“The legislation will help some of the lost funding because of the unexpected loss of students due to the fire,” said Superintendent David Prescott. “We really appreciate the work of Dan Dorman and Grace Schwab to get this legislation through. I understand it was difficult for them to keep that alive.”

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Though the new funding will not solve all the financial problems after a levy increase attempt failed last year, Prescott said it would provide the district an opportunity to reevaluate some of the service reductions implemented in its programs and busing services.

According to Prescott, the fire deprived the schools of 65 students, worsening an already downward trend in enrollment numbers, upon which state funding is based.

The unanticipated additions in the decline just before the school year was starting did not give the school board a chance to adjust expenditures.

“We sign contracts with people based on the number of students we assume will be in our schools next August,” Prescott explained. “The fire occurred during the summertime, and the drop started almost immediately. We just cannot suddenly decide not to honor the contracts.”

The enrollment decline is a difficult issue to manage even when it is well anticipated, Prescott emphasized. The decrease is spread across 13 grade levels. “A loss of two students in a class, for example, does not decrease any of our expenses,” Prescott said.

Area legislators are content with local provisions in the budget-balancing bill. Besides the funding for the school district, they managed to keep other major remedies for Farmland &045; the designation of a tax-increment financing district and sales tax exemption &045; in the bill.

“We really had a jackpot this year. Our area got the help they need,” said Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea, who authored the original proposal for the enrollment decline aid.

“I think it is a very good bill for the folks in Freeborn County,” Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, agreed. “I was very concerned that we would not be able to accomplish it because of the economic downturn.”

Another bill also passed the legislature Wednesday provide a 13-week extra unemployment benefit to the displaced Farmland employees. Prescott expects those measures would mitigate the trend of declining enrollment.