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Columbus School District presents 2018-19 budget

October 12, 2018

Community members received an update on Columbus School District’s fiscal and academic health at the district’s annual meeting Oct. 8.

The meeting, held at city hall, presented an overview of the 2018-19 budget, looked back at some of the district’s achievements in the past year and presented goals for the future. Liz O’Donnell, a former board member, chaired the annual meeting and budget hearing. The school board will likely pass the preliminary budget and set the tax levy at the Oct. 22 meeting. The district’s regular board meeting was held prior to the annual meeting.

According to Business Administrator Janel DeZarn-Vertz, the district is requesting a budget of $6,987,429 for 2018-19. It’s a small increase from last year’s amount, slightly above $6.9 million.

DeZarn-Vertz presented a financial breakdown of how the district uses its funds. For expenses, the district spends more than 45 percent of its budget on staff salaries, with benefits at 19 percent and purchased services also at 19 percent. In revenue, more than 44 percent comes from state funding, while 40 percent is generated from local taxes.

Federal sources provide less than 7 percent of funding. However, based on trend data, state funding has risen the past two fiscal years and federal funding is projected to rise in 2019. The district’s enrollment is down somewhat this year, but DeZarn-Vertz said it shouldn’t affect state funding too much because the state determines funding based on a district’s three-year average enrollment. In general, Columbus has shown enrollment growth during the past five years.

Columbus’ general fund balance increased from nearly $4 million to more than $4.2 million, while its debt service fund decreased from more than $1.2 million to $947,654. Both Columbus’ food service and community service funds increased as well. DeZarn-Vertz said the district expanded its school breakfast program this year, under a new director.

Overall, the district is in better financial health than it was a few years ago.

“When it comes to fiscal health, we’ve done a lot in just one year,” DeZarn-Vertz said.

When DeZarn-Vertz came to the district in the summer of 2017, her most important goal was improving the district’s financial stability. She said Columbus’ bond rating should improve and the district has reduced its dependence on short-term borrowing. Columbus has had a history of short-term borrowing. In 2012, its bond rating was downgraded.

“Typically, at the end of the annual meeting, the school board would come back into session and immediately approve short-term borrowing for the coming school year,” DeZarn-Vertz said. “We’re not doing that right now; it’s something we’re holding off on because we’ve already gotten to a point in one year where we’re not emergency borrowing.”

Enrollment and future goals

Superintendent Annette Deuman provided an update on enrollment, student academic achievement, and its long-term vision.

Since 2007, the district’s enrollment has risen from 1,112 students to 1,330. It dipped slightly by 32 students from last year’s September headcount. Overall, since 2010, more students have entered the district through open enrollment. Deuman said minority student enrollment has increased from nearly 6 percent of the student body in 2007 to almost 14 percent in 2018.

As of Oct. 4, 30 percent of students were eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.

Deuman also talked about Columbus’ Launching a New Legacy program, which began in 2016. She said the district’s biggest objective is to have students community, college and career ready upon graduation.

Looking at results from the Forward/ELA testing, Deuman said Columbus was higher than the state average in several categories.

“It was one of the best years we’ve had,” Deuman said. “We were below the state average in math, so we have some work to do there.”

Deuman also compared ACT scores from 2017 graduates to other regional districts similar to Columbus’ size. Last year’s graduating class averaged 20.3 on the ACT. Lodi was first (21.7), while Lake Mills was second (21.3).

Therapist available

As the district and community continue to build its Launch initiatives, priority No. 3 is to address students’ social needs, specifically mental health and poverty.

Deuman said the high school will have a therapist from Aspen Family Counseling available for students a few hours a week. Aspen, from Portage, is a state-certified clinic and deals with various mental health issues.

“We’ve finally been able to get some services and if there is a greater need, Aspen will be working with us to increase its services,” Deuman said. “We’re very proud about that.”

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