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Numbers show money goes to classrooms

Jane Berenz's first official report as school superintendent of Independent School District 196 gave her the chance to brag about the district she is now leading.

However, she cautions that potential changes are on the horizon.

Each year, the Minnesota Board of Education compares audited school district financial data based on a per student basis. At District 196's regular board meeting Monday, Berenz presented the district's profile review, which outlined how ISD 196 measures up financially with other school districts in the state.

And the results demonstrate District 196's emphasis on the classroom and learning environment.

"It is great to see our commitment in the classrooms," Berenz said at Monday's meeting. "We have always put the classrooms first, and that is why we have students up here accepting awards."

Based on the numbers released recently by the state, District 196 is an average-spending district, but one that allocates its dollars in a different manner than many of the state's 340 school districts.

District 196 is the state's fourth-largest school district with about 27,500 students. That accounts for about 3 percent of the state's more than 800,000 students.

"Being a large district helps us to be more financially efficient in areas related to infrastructure," Berenz said.

However, the size also alters how 196 receives its funding.

The state average for school districts is 79 percent of total school funding coming from the state, with 12 percent coming from property taxes. District 196 receives 74 percent of its budget from state funding and 19 percent from property taxes.

Berenz credits the community's support of a levy referendum in 2005 that helps to account for the higher percentage in property tax revenue.

"The levy moved us from a low-spending district to an average-spending district," Berenz said. "The community stepped forward with the levy in 2005. The levy will last 10 years. We have seen a lot of cuts around us and we have been cushioned somewhat from that.

"With 0 percent funding (increase) from the state, the situation will start to turn."

With the help of the 2005 levy, ISD 196 receives about $220 more per student than the state average. Revenue for ISD 196 equates to $1,042.39 per student.

Meanwhile, there is about a $3 dollar difference in expenditures per student.

The largest percentage of expenditures in ISD 196 is in licensed teaching, about 69 percent of total costs. The state average is 63 percent.

Conversely, District 196 spends less than the state average in support services. The state averages an 18 percent cost in support services, while District 196 spends about 14 percent of its budget on support services.

The ratio of students to total staff in ISD 196 is one staff member to every 14.5 students. That ratio compares favorably with similar districts in the Lake Conference, which are at a 1 to 15.7 ratio.

"There are tough choices coming up for us," Berenz said. "We have a great staff and a community that cares about schools, so we will figure it out.

"We've tried so hard to keep that integrity of the classroom and would like to continue that."

But Berenz warns that tough choice will be coming.

"The interesting thing, because we get almost all of our funding from the state, levies help us and we are so grateful when we have them, but it cant make up for 0 percent," she said. "It helps us cut less. But the total picture is that the majority of our dollars come from the state."

"We've been so appreciative of (the community's) support and as we go forward we'll have to have some dialogue about what this all means."