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Bismarck Public Schools Superintendent hopes the flat K-12 funding proposal is a 'starting point'

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The superintendent of the Bismarck Public Schools is hoping Governor Burgum’s proposal for flat state funding for K-12 is only a starting point.

Burgum has proposed keeping per-pupil payments at $10,036 for the 2021-2023 biennium.

Dr. Jason Hornbacher said the Bismarck district hasn’t yet put pencil to paper, to see what the effects of flat funding will have on the district.

"A 'zero and zero,' or flat funding, will have a negative impact on our overall budget," Hornbacher said in an interview. "It will have implications for our operations, and it will have implications for staffing."

Hornbacher said this comes as the Bismarck district’s enrollment is growing.

"We're expecting a bumper crop of kindergarten kids," Hornbacher said. "This year, our kindergarten numbers dropped a little bit. And we're suspecting that parents held off on starting some of their five year olds until this coming year."

And Hornbacher said the district is getting read to open two new schools.

The District’s Business and Operations Manager, Darin Scheer, said while schools did receive increases in the current two-year budget, think back to the 2017-2019 biennium.

"We were flat for three years," Scheer said. "Essentially, that's what would happen again."

Scheer said two years ago, the increase was welcome, and the district could "take a breath." He said the district was able to do some things, in terms of operation and staffing.

"Now, we would have to deal with that again," Scheer said. "It's not going to be that easy."

Hornbacher said right at the end of that biennium, the Bismarck School Board increased the local mill levy to address the social, emotional and behavioral health needs of students.

"We've really started to make a difference," Hornbacher said. "Now, just one biennium later, it's zero increase again. It's a little disheartening."

Hornbacher said in earlier discussions with Bismarck legislators, school officials floated an idea of a one-percent funding increase in the first year of the biennium. That would bring the per pupil payment number from the current $10,036 to $10,136. He said the statewide price tag for a one percent increase each year would be about $31 million.

"We're definitely optimistic that it's going to move beyond zero," Hornbacher said.

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