Schools budget in holding pattern
EVERETT - When Gov. Jay Inslee releases his budget in March, Everett School District leaders will be able to stop scratching their heads on how much to cut from next school year’s budget.
With five months left to solidify the budget, district officials estimate Everett schools face an either $4 million shortfall or an up to $10 million windfall.
The uncertainty continues until state lawmakers and the governor work out how much to budget for K-12 education. Lawmakers also are grappling with understanding the McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court ruling that found the state wasn’t upholding its paramount duty to adequately fund education and mandates more money for schools.
Everett School Board member Jeff Russell asked fellow board members last week to prioritize school programs in case cuts need to happen and have a list ready for the March 5 board meeting.
If the district receives no new money, it faces a $4 million shortfall.
Outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire tagged $1 billion in estimated revenue toward schools through extending recession-era tax increases in her final proposed budget. Inslee, though, doesn’t have to follow that budget.
Everett’s budget quandary is a case of “wait and see — wait and see, and be prepared,” district finance manager Jeff Moore said.
The Everett School District has cut $17 million in the past three years. Last year it staved off further cuts by dipping into its reserve funds.
“We can’t nickel and dime our way out” of this if cuts are needed again, Russell said.
Districts faced funding challenges in the past, and the newest one is whether or not state lawmakers think they can reduce local levy contributions. (The state supplements local levy dollars under a levy equalization program to help out poorer school districts.)
Moore said legislators might be looking at cutting back on levy funding on the misunderstanding McCleary money would make up the rest.
Everett’s impact would be a loss of up to $6.3 million if they did that, Moore said.
Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said he hadn’t heard legislators suggesting that. He’s in Olympia for the Legislative session.
The state, in an unprecedented move, stripped schools of Initiative 728 funding to keep K-4 class sizes down in December 2009, a loss of $8 million to Everett schools. The Legislature permanently killed I-728 funding last year. Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, is sponsoring a bill to bring back funding for reducing class sizes, Wood said.
Legislators also have introduced unfunded mandates on districts in past years, such as a teacher evaluation program called TPEP. Some lawmakers this year are bandying an idea to hold back third-graders if they fail exams, which could balloon the size of third grade classrooms.
“Legislators need to know how much those unfunded mandates cost,” board member Pam LeSesne said.
Whatever the Legislature does, it puts school districts under a tight timeline.
The Legislature’s session is scheduled to end April 28, but it could be extended past June. Districts by law have to tell teachers if they will be laid off by May 15. The district has avoided teacher layoffs for three years.
The Everett School District is scheduled to adopt its budget for the 2013-2014 school year July 2. The district operates on a $191 million budget.
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