Dowagiac School Board approves preliminary 2020-2021 budget

DOWAGIAC — Much of what the 2020-2021 school year will look like remains unclear to Dowagiac Union Schools’ board of education.

Following a budget hearing Monday evening, the board approved a preliminary general fund budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The board approved a general fund with revenues of $21,001,412 and expenditures of $21,901,741. Additionally, the board also approved preliminary school lunch fund and fiduciary fund appropriations.

Despite the numbers approved Monday evening, Stacy Ritchie, finance director, told the board that the budget would be subject to revision, which the board would likely vote on by December.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Ritchie said. “I’d consider this a very base budget.”

The unknowns in the budget primarily come from an expected reduction in state funding following the COVID-19 pandemic. Ritchie said the district expects to see a decrease of $800 per student from the state in 2021. The district is also anticipating losing roughly 100 students next year, further reducing its state funding.

“There are a lot of things we just don’t know,” Ritchie said. “All those unknown factors will have an impact. … This is a flat budget. There are no extras in it.”

To help make up for anticipated reductions in funding, Ritchie recommended the board halt bus purchases and special projects for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We didn’t plan for any capital projects this year,” Ritchie said. “We’ve been replacing buses pretty aggressive since I started six years ago — we’ve replaced about one a year. So, to take one year off, we will be fine. Our bus fleet is in good shape right now.”

Outside of the budget, Superintendent Jonathan Whan said the COVID-19 pandemic continues to provide unknowns for the district. He said the district was still making its plan for the fall, but that the schools would follow any guideline laid out by the state.

Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer release a MI Safe School road map, which includes provides guidance on personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, spacing, screening for symptoms, athletics and more.

Whitmer also announced $256 million in new funding to implement safety measures and signed an executive order requiring school districts to make three different plans for different phases of the state’s reopening — one for fully remote work, one for returning with strict restrictions and one with more relaxed protocols and additional flexibility.

Whan said administrators would be meeting soon to discuss plans for the coming school year, adding that the district is looking at all options, including full remote learning, full in-person learning and partial remote learning.

“We are going to incorporate [the state’s] plans with our plans,” Whan said.

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