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Class size in focus as School District 27J mulls 2014-15 budget plan

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — School District 27J officials are planning to address student growth and keep class sizes small in the 2014-15 academic year with their budget plan heard during the April 22 Board of Education meeting.

The district is anticipated to receive a $7.76-million increase in the general fund next year, bringing the general fund budget to a little over $114 million. 

The 7.3-percent increase in the general fund can be attributed to additional per-pupil funding from student growth, a 2.8-percent increase to account for inflation, and additional funding from the state that will help reduce the negative factor, according to Chief Finance Officer Suzi DeYoung.

The district population is anticipated to grow by another 472 students next year, which will bring the total estimated number of students in the district to 17,206.

“We’re still one of the fastest-growing districts in the metro area, so we do need to focus on our enrollment growth and seat capacity,” DeYoung said. 

DeYoung said the budget includes new personnel and that the district will be putting more than $1.6 million into new staffing this year. She said staffing is based upon the student-to-teacher ratio and that an allocation is given to the schools for administrators to determine how they will spend it based upon their needs. 

The increased funding for staff is factored into the $57.5 million the district will spend on employee salaries, up about 3.16 percent from the current academic year. DeYoung said the district has also set money aside for negotiations. The district is currently negotiating contracts for classified and certified staff for the 2014-15 academic year. 

Once just more than $17.1 million in employee benefits are added in, employee salary and benefits are expected to account for 86 percent of expenditures in the district’s general fund. 

In addition to staffing, DeYoung said the district will be doing a number of one-time improvements and will be utilizing about $2 million in fund balance to do so. Those improvements include getting Brighton Heritage Academy ready for next year’s freshman class with technology upgrades and new furniture, purchasing eight new buses — four new propane buses and four new special ed buses — and a number of other technology upgrades. 

The use of the fund balance will reduce the district’s fund balance by nearly 31 percent. DeYoung said the district will have $4.6 million remaining in its fund balance for the board to use at a later time, if deemed necessary.

DeYoung admits that she would like to see the fund balance a little bit larger, and that it’s part of the district’s long-range plans, but that the funding the district receives depends on local funding levels as well as the state.

“As we are trying to maintain these programs and educate our students and keep with our forward momentum and make sure that they’re in safe environments and have this current technology, the use of fund balance has just become something that we have to do,” DeYoung said. 

The budget also includes funding for its computer cascade, which is an ongoing rotation that provides students with new technology every five years; the addition of new technology support staff and a new autism program at one of the district’s middle schools.

The proposed budget does not include any fee changes at this point, but DeYoung said any changes would for before the board in May. A budget hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting, starting at 7 p.m. May 27 at the Educational Service Center, before the board conducts its final reading.