Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, like many around the state, faced planning challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, and on March 22 the ACGC School Board adjusted its budget and future accordingly.
Business Manager Wendy Holle walked the board through changes recommended to adjust for the effects of the pandemic on enrollment and financing. At ACGC, the total number of students is almost identical to 2019-2020. The pandemic, while upsetting the apple cart on how teaching is done, brought in extra state and federal dollars, but properly using and accounting for that extra income is tricky, Holle said.
The 2019-2020 school year ended in the black financially for ACGC, leaving the district with healthier-than-usual reserves. Since district policy is to retain 20 percent of its annual budget in reserves so it can cover unexpected expense, the original 2020-21 budget called for “spending down” some excess reserves.
Another “plus” for ACGC has been savings in utility costs, due to greater efficiency of its recently renovated heating and electrical systems, Holle and Supt. Nels Onstad explained. The district has, however, experienced increased expense in pandemic-related items like technology, supplies and transportation (offset by approximately $750,000 in extra state and federal allotments.) There are also inflation-related increases in staff salaries and benefits.
The board adjusted general fund expenses upward by $515,955, which is about 4.6 percent, and revenue by $679,846, or 6.35 percent.
The food service budget also required adjusting, although the board anticipates more summer school and community recreation use this summer, and a greater role for food service in that model. Curtailed 2020-21 community education activity led to less revenue coming in and a lower fund balance there.
When all funds (general, food service, capital) are included, ACGC’s total budget increased from $10.7 million in revenue to $11.4 million, and from $11.16 million in expenses to $11.67 million. The figures show that conducting school during a pandemic is more expensive, but extra CARES Act and other state and federal grants helped, leaving ACGC in the black after adjustments. Its fund balance is lower, but still, at about 25 percent, significantly higher than the 20 percent minimum of district policy.
Other pandemic-related changes
Pandemic-related sports season and standardized testing delays have condensed year-end activity at the junior-senior high school. Onstad and Principal Robin Wall reported on the changes. They noted that the dance team competed well at the state level and that four wrestlers advanced to state individual competition. Wall anticipates good participation in college testing and in upcoming summer school programs.
“The overall testing schedule is different this year; we are doing it a little later, largely in May,” Wall said, noting that students still in distance learning are encouraged to participate in the testing. She said that a prom, baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies will also be held in May, using state health department guidelines. Details are still pending.
Things are operating more normally at the elementary school, Onstad reported. As of the March 22 board meeting, students had been back in class for a couple of months there, and for five weeks at the high school.
There is extra funding for summer school: a great deal of interest has already been expressed, officials reported. All summer school activities at all grade levels will take place in Atwater. The summer school day will include two meals, and be coordinated with summer recreation offerings and transportation this year.
Summer food service will be available for pickup by families in all three ACGC communities, probably once a week.