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Verndale district eyes funding picture

The Verndale School Board got the good news and the bad news in straight doses Monday night at its April meeting.

Thanks to the lobbying efforts of St. Anthony Village, a school in a metro community with high property values that does not qualify for referendum aid, the Verndale district had gained $111,000 in state aid since last July because it does not have an operating levy. Verndale is one of only a handful of districts in the state to have this distinction. Nearly half of Verndale's student body (465) is made up of students who are open-enrolled from other districts.

The realization that extra state aid has been coming in is timely because District 818's balance sheet has dipped under $900,000 -- the lowest figure that Verndale superintendent Paul Brownlow has seen since he arrived three years ago. The March 10 ending cash balance for the district was $839,052.42.

Reasons for the March cash balance vary, but they are in a large part due to the state's funding shift for schools. The cutting of state aid to local communities and schools has been a hardship to many schools and communities in the state in the first months of 2010. The majority of Minnesota school districts have been forced to borrow money to operate because the state of Minnesota has not made its last three payments to the districts on time. Schools with a reserve, like Verndale, have been able to weather the storm without borrowing money, but they still feel the pinch.

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to take action in May regarding the future aid to Minnesota school districts. The Department of Education is not aware of any big reduction in state funding to schools. Education has traditionally received the lion's share of the annual state budget.

"They are saying we will see some major changes in the next couple of weeks before the session actually closes," Brownlow said, after talking with Bob Porter of the Department of Education's program finance division.

Brownlow anticipates the district coffers receiving more than $500,000 in state aid, federal grant money and fiscal stabilization funds before the end school in June.

"Next month is also going to get a little lower but we should see a pretty good outcome after that," Brownlow said.