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BP audit shows growth

Blooming prairie, school board, mn, steele county times
Adjustments needed for expiring COVID funds
Kay Fate, Staff Writer

The federal funds sent to public schools around the country during the pandemic felt like a gift to many districts.

The money meant they wouldn’t have to pay for technology needed for staff and students for distance learning, or for costly preventive measures to keep everyone healthy.

Now, though, that additional bump at budgeting time is going away – and schools across the state and nation are going to feel the pinch. Rising costs due to inflation make it a double whammy.

That was the lone dark spot in the Blooming Prairie School District’s audit report, presented at last week’s school board meeting by Ben Johnson of CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP.

The district had $575,000 in COVID funds last year, “but that goes away next year,” he said. “Chris is obviously on top of that, to be aware of that for budgeting purposes.”

That’s Superintendent Chris Staloch, who told the board members about $300,000 remains.

“We have $275,000 less than we had the prior year,” he said, “and it has to be spent by September 2024.”

In a small district like Blooming Prairie, that money can cover a lot of programming and extras that will now have to find funding elsewhere – or disappear.

The remainder of the report was positive, including a “very healthy” unrestricted fund balance.

“It’s going up,” Johnson said, “which is because your enrollment is increasing.”

The Community Service Project fund, which includes things like early childhood education and preschool programming, was trending down, “but this isn’t the most concerning,” he said.

“A lot of districts look at this like an investment, so that other districts may open enroll to their district,” Johnson said.

“One of the things we really try to be careful of when we look at fees for preschool is that we don’t raise them too fast,” Staloch said. “We’ve slowly raised some fees to offset some of those (budget) costs; that’s partially why it didn’t go down as far as it could have.”

That seems to fit with what Johnson described: The investment in early childhood education and preschool seems to be paying off in Blooming Prairie.

“This honestly might be the only district I know of that has a graph that has trended up every year for the past five years,” he said of the enrollment numbers. “This is a very good graph for you.”

Nearly every other district around sees the opposite trend each year, Johnson said.

“This graph speaks to what everybody that’s employed (by the district) does,” Staloch said. “That graph talks about the great work that’s happening here.”

Taxpayers, too, should be pleased with the clean audit report, including the fact that 81% of every dollar that comes into the district goes toward the students.

“That is definitely higher than a lot of other school districts, by about 3 to 5%,” Johnson said. “That’s also a testament to what you guys are doing here that’s very impressive: You’re putting a lot of your money toward your students, so that’s something to be proud of.”

The flip side of the coin – controlling costs – was also highlighted, with numbers below the state average and those of similar-sizes districts.

“That’s primarily administration costs,” Johnson said. “Spending less on that … that’s a good number to hang your hat on.”

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