Superintendent John Chalstrom had good news and bad news for the Cherokee School Board on Monday.
The bad news is that the school district lost 12 students since last year, going down to 999.6 students for the current school year (dual enrolled home schooled students are counted as fractions of students based on level of service provided).
The good news is that this is a smaller loss than in the previous two years, smaller than the average over the last dozen years.
With the per-pupil amount of funding approved by the state legislature to increase by 4 percent, an amount called allowable growth, the school district will see some new money in the next fiscal year. Chalstrom estimates that the new money will be about $83,800.
Going back to the bad news, if wages and benefits and other expenses increase by an anticipated inflation rate of 4 percent, the cost of operating the district at the present level would be more than $260,000 over the present cost, about $180,000 over the amount of new money coming in.
Chalstrom noted that the district will have to make budget cuts but it will not be as dramatic as in previous years.
The state sets a per-pupil amount for the general fund that is consistent throughout the state. This amount is raised through a combination of local property tax and state aid in a formula also determined by the state. A school district does not determine what the property tax will be for the general fund.
There are a few other revenue sources that are determined locally, by board action or a vote of the citizens, but these are limited as to amount and specific uses. The uses of these limited locally approved levies are generally for capital improvement needs rather than day-to-day operating funds. Therefore, the number of employees of a district and program offerings are determined by the enrollment count.
Among locally determined levies are the debt service levy for bond issues for specific building projects, the Instructional Support Program (ISP) levy and Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), a management levy for certain insurance and payroll tax costs (an exception to the generalization about these levies not being used for operating expenses), and the School Infrastructure Local Option sales tax.
The Cherokee School District is in a better situation than other districts serving Cherokee County communities. Aurelia, with a loss of seven students, has lost a smaller number of students but a bigger percentage of enrollment than Cherokee. With a loss of 13 students, River Valley lost more than Cherokee. both in terms of total numbers and in terms of percentage of enrollment. The Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn School District had a significant loss of 29.2 students.
Chalstrom noted on Monday that Le Mars had a dramatic and unexpected loss of about 70 students.