Our Opinion: APS should be commended

Published 9:05 am Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Last week’s approval by the Austin Public Schools Board of the 2021-22 budget should be welcome news to those within the district as well as those working within APS.

On the surface, this was going to happen. The district had a deadline of June 30, they passed the budget (though the reason they ultimately had to wait that long came down more to scheduling than anything else), and they did it fairly routinely, as they would most years.

However, this hasn’t been most years.

The crux of this budget came down more to where the district has come from in order to get to a budget that essentially breaks even, breaking even is good considering the shortfalls the district was forced to overcome. The district even saw a modest improvement of $300,000 in the final budget.

The board approved a budget for next year that sees a budgeted fund balance of just under $19 million. This newly passed budget was challenged from the beginning by the COVID-19 pandemic, and like most every Minnesota schools, APS was going to address concerns of revenue shortfalls and the possibility of letting staff go. Throughout this past school year, APS followed a hybrid model to education, which significantly limited the amount of students into the building at one time. What followed was a dent to the free and reduced lunch program. Activities were also limited throughout the year, which was another pinched revenue source.

However, led by Executive Director of Finance and Operations Lori Volz and the administration, the school made amazing strides every step of the way that would limit the damages. They searched out and secured funding through state and federal grants and pulled every dollar it could to get APS on an even footing.

An ESSER II grant helped secure much-needed funding that included $1.9 million put directly to retaining staff and the news that insurance premiums would not rise this year helped the district save another $900,000.

Little moves here and there contributed to this optimistic budget and, thanks to the hard work of Volz, the school board and administration, APS is on solid footing coming out of the devastating pandemic. There are still questions for the future, but to have a solid base means the district is in a great spot to tackle those challenges.

The district should be commended for the work it’s done over a very difficult period of time. This will only make APS stronger going into the future.