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Legislature provides new money for schools

Independent School District 196 will get an additional $1.6 million from the State of Minnesota this year, but finance director Jeff Solomon doesn't expect the district to go on any spending sprees.

The one-time money, approved by Minnesota legislators near the end of this year's session as part of a budget reconciliation bill, amounts to $51 per student -- about 1 percent of the district's total budget.

ISD 196 had not figured the money into its budget for the coming financial year, but Solomon said the unexpected funding will not likely allow the district to spend much beyond its original plans.

The district was already planning to draw some from its reserve funds to make up for a budget shortfall.

"This would have the impact of reducing that fund balance draw," Solomon said.

The one-time funding was among the most visible of the education-related bills to come from the legislative session that wrapped up early Monday morning but there are others that should have an impact. Among the most significant is an increase from $100 to $150 in school districts' lease levy authority. That is money the district uses to rent space for its area learning center alternative high school and for community education programs, among other things.

"That cap level hasn't changed for quite a while ... and our district has been at that cap for quite a while," Solomon said.

The district has been forced to transfer money from other accounts to pay for some of its leases. Solomon said the increase in the cap should help that.

The legislature also provided an additional $400,000 statewide to help cover milk costs for kindergarten students.

Solomon does not expect ISD 196 to take advantage of another piece of legislation that allows the district to make a one-time transfer of $51 per student from building funds to the general fund, where it could be used for classroom expenses. The district already makes a similar type of transfer of $2.2 million to cover salaries and benefits for technology staff.

"I don't believe we should engage in any more of that type of a transfer," Solomon said. "What it really does is take away from our ability to address building needs."