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New Duluth school district budget process unveiled

Duluth school district CFO Cathy Erickson laid out the district's new budgeting process going forward Tuesday.

Erickson made a presentation the Duluth School Board Tuesday evening during a committee of the whole meeting. Even though there are a lot of unknowns at this point, Erickson said the budget process should focus on the needs of the district as a whole rather than on different "pots of money."

Erickson said that in the past, student-teacher ratios were used to allocate resources to buildings, but she wants to change that and look at the budget as a whole in hopes to save money. She is using the current year's budget as a base for next year.

Another issue with previous budgeting processes is that unrestricted money was used on items that restricted money could be used for, and Erickson said administration wants to change that where they can.

"I think in the past, the district has been very buckety, where they've really been focused on different pots of money and not realizing that maybe we had some flexibility," she said. "As long as our bottom line stays the same, and the expenditure qualifies, it's OK (to switch funding sources). But I think in the past, they've seen their restricted discretionary as unrestricted but it has so many strings attached that we've missed so many opportunities."

Erickson also said she wants to get away from principals having to scour multiple lines of budgets trying to find money for needs. She said that's where she and finance manager Peggy Blalock can help.

"So if we can say 'tell us what you need' and Peggy and I will work on making sure that we have accessible dollars, or if we don't, let's figure out a way at reshaping those needs to make sure that we can," Erickson said. "I think that allowing (principals) to look at educational priorities instead of 'how do I fit this in my budget' would be a better way of looking at things. I hope it's allowing them to redirect their limited time and resources to the things they need to do instead of budgeting, which is what we can do for them."

The current unknowns for the budget right now are pupil numbers and funding at the state level. Gov. Tim Walz's first proposed an increase to educational fund by 3 percent for next year, but until the legislative session is complete it's unknown if additional funding, or even unfunded mandates, will affect the budget.

Erickson said she plans to present a preliminary budget to the School Board at its April 16 business committee meeting and have a final budget available for approval at its June meeting.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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