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School announces large projected deficit in 2025, plans budget cuts

Ely Echo - Staff Photo - Create Article
Superintendent Anne Oelke discusses the district’s financial problems including a nearly $500,000 deficit. Photo by Parker Loew.

by Parker Loew

At the Ely school board study session on Monday, board members discussed options for budget reductions due to a projected $485,909 deficit for 2024-25.

Superintendent Anne Oelke said the school board will realistically need more than one year to close the gap.

“Our total estimated funds to reduce would be $485,909,” said Oelke. “That’s a big number for a small district with a $9 million budget. I want to stress that we are looking at a two-year plan for budget reductions, not cutting all of this in one year.”

Board members discussed many possible reductions they could make over the next two years to balance the budget, while stressing that nothing has yet been determined or finalized.

Options for expenditure reductions included potential reductions in numerous district positions, from faculty members to administration and support staff.

Positions identified for possible reduction included:

• School nurse;

• Cafeteria aide;

•  Elementary and Memorial secretaries;

• Memorial principal;

• Special ed and paraprofessionals;

• Paraprofessional hours;

• Music, English, Spanish, math, art, physical education

• Business manager;





• Social Studies retirement/replacement;

• Part-time custodian.

“This is a pretty exhausted list of possible reductions that we’ve been talking about,” said Oelke. “Everybody needs to hear this information as respectfully as possible.”

The finance committee will meet to discuss these reductions in more detail in the coming weeks to decide what they are comfortable with, and what direction they should go in.

The recommendations for these reductions will come to the board by the end of April or early May.

Once the decisions are final in the coming weeks, Oelke will notify staff in the departments identified for reduction so nobody is caught by surprise.

“It’s not easy when it comes to cutting positions or jobs because, behind every job, there’s a person or a family,” said board member Ray Marsnik. “These are very tough decisions.”

“I always like to make sure that our cuts are made as far away from the students as possible,” continued Marsnik.

Along with potential reductions, the school board also looked at options to increase the school’s revenue, which included a four-day school week, grants, the capital project levy and renting out facilities at the school.

One of the big hits the district took this year was a loss of revenue from the expiration of the federal stimulus ESSER funds they previously received, which totaled $270,000.

“That ESSER funding, which was money from the federal government, was a big hit for us,” said Marsnik. “It helped us over the last three years, but that is no longer there.”

The board remains hopeful they can find funding paths that will limit the reductions they have to make, but as of right now are not aware of any money the district is eligible for in 2025 that they haven’t already looked into.

“I’d like to believe there’s money out there, and we’re just not aware of it yet,” said board member Tony Colarich.

One of the major objectives of the school board over the last several years has been to remain a viable independent school district that is financially sound.

“We’re very fortunate, being a small school, that we have been able to do that,” said Marsnik.

If the school district continues to deficit spend, the specter of statutory operating debt looms. That occurs when reserves fall into a negative balance, and triggers state intervention.

“We definitely want to stay away from statutory operating debt. That’s when we get into trouble,” said Marsnik. “If we owe more than three percent, then we go into statutory operating debt. Then we have to come up with a plan. If we do not come up with a plan, then the state will take this district over, and they will look at things like consolidation.

In April, there’s the opportunity for a school board member to attend a meeting in the capitol where there will be a presentation on new grant money the school may be eligible for.

“It seems like a good opportunity to look at the revenue side of the operation,” said school board member Tom Omerza. “Perhaps for not only one-time hits but for a consistent year-over-year.”

The school board also went over enrollment projections for 2025, including an anticipated nine-student decline in average daily membership, which is closely linked to overall student population.   

While the district has roughly 530 students in grades K-12, that amounts to a current total of 515 ADM. It’s estimated that will decline to 506 next year, causing a decline in revenue based on the state’s per pupil formula.

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