Winona public school board members mulled the school district’s draft completed budget for 2020 Thursday night as compiled by finance director Sarah Slaby — one of the last times she will be presenting numbers to the board, as she submitted her resignation Thursday.

Sarah Slaby mug


The resignation was a late addition to the meeting’s agenda. Having started as the school district’s controller in 2002 and taking over as finance director in 2014, Slaby is one of the longer-tenured members of the current administrative cabinet.

Winona Area Public Schools has had a handful of tough financial years under Slaby’s watch as director, most recently requiring $1.7 million in reductions to the 2018-19 budget and $2.2 million in reductions to the upcoming year’s budget. She will officially depart the district on July 5 to take a position with the accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen.

Director of Human Resources Emily Solheid said, like any vacancy, she will review the job description for the position and then proceed with posting for a replacement.

The 2020 budget has been in the works since February when the board held a work session to begin laying out possible reductions. It will return to the board table for final approval at their June 18 meeting.

Projected enrollment for the 2019-20 school year, which impacts the budget through per-pupil aid and caused problems last fall when the district’s projections were off, is expected to be 2,676.38 students, a decrease of roughly 117 from the current school year’s final projection.

“As of now, projections are looking solid,” Slaby told the board Thursday.

When board members voted in April to slash $2.2 million from the upcoming budget, it included enough cuts to grow the district’s unreserved fund balance by 0.5%. The fund balance at the end of the current school year will sit at just under 4%, still far from the school district’s goal of a 10% balance.

But the new school year could provide an opportunity to grow the fund balance to 5.14%, Slaby said, if the money set aside for “hotspots” in the school buildings, essentially enough money to alleviate a minor staffing concern, does not end up being used. If it is, she said, the fund balance will likely grow to 4.57%.

Of note in the building sale proceeds portion of the budget is the dollar amount the district used to litigate both the Save Our Schools appeal and the ongoing lawsuit concerning the closures of Madison and Rollingstone schools, listed at $21,483.

After the board officially approves the 2020 budget June 18, finance staff will monitor the budget on an ongoing basis and Slaby recommended a formal update for the board in January 2020 to discuss changes like contract settlements and medical and dental rates.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved bids for the summer’s slate of referendum projects and reviewed results of the school district’s transportation study and survey. The district contracted with K12 Transportation Management Services to take on the study, which produced a handful of recommendations that superintendent Rich Dahman said would not be put into place at this time.

Earlier this year, the board also voted to contract out the role of the former transportation coordinator to K12 Transportation, which will now organize the district’s bus routes.

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Madeline Heim covers K-12 & higher education in Winona. A 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she previously interned at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the suburban community arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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