It was a momentous occasion for
Now districts across the state are seeing red.
Nearly every school district in
So what went wrong?
District officials describe a perfect storm of events leading to significant deficits, and for most of them, the story is the same. Capped local levy dollars mean fewer discretionary funds for programs. The multimillion-dollar contracts districts agreed to during last summer's teachers strikes increased labor costs. Enrollment is declining as millennial families are delaying having children.
“Our students, teachers, families and communities urgently need you to work to improve the state's new funding system for our public schools,”
“Without legislative action, valued K-12 programs and staff positions will be cut, class sizes will go up, and some districts may be insolvent in the next several years,” wrote Webb, who has dubbed the ongoing issue the “
But if this legislative session is any indication, school districts are more likely to see incremental changes rather than another massive overhaul of the state's school funding model. Rep.
“We're in the middle of a challenging place right now,” she said. “But I think we'll be better off.”
“We weren't a district that was a winner in
This is the second crisis in a short period of time area districts have faced. The region was gripped by historic teacher strikes last summer, delaying the start of school for most students in the county by several days. At the time, and for months afterward, school districts pointed to multimillion-dollar contracts signed with their teachers' unions as a significant factor in expected budget deficits.
But districts since have appeared to back away from that rhetoric, pointing instead to compounding issues causing the deficits. Merlino said the raises weren't unrealistic given that teachers didn't receive cost-of-living raises for several years during the Great Recession. Teachers had to catch up, he said.
“You don't really begrudge a group if they felt like they've been kind of held back for an extended period of time,” he said.
Still, that attitude isn't shared by all in
“Are there deficits?” he asked. “Yes, but I think that has more to do with the bargaining situation we went through last summer.”
Stonier called that characterization disingenuous.
“(Braun) knows that teachers were going to negotiate for fair salaries when money started to show up at the state,” she said.
School district officials say lower local revenue and declining enrollment are also to blame for the shortfalls.
Ross said it's unlikely any staff will have to be cut, but positions could be eliminated through attrition.
“We're just trying to move the pieces and we'll fill where we can,” Ross said.
The district is also expecting enrollment declines at some of its campuses, after long talking about overcrowding due to a growing student body. Average enrollment in the district is about 12,974 this school year, according to OSPI. That's down from the 13,564 the school district had projected for the school year. The district now projects enrollment will stay steady at that decreased number of students into 2019-2020.
“Our real story is the drop in enrollment,” said
Hayden speculated that increasing housing costs could be driving the decline. Maybe fewer young families are purchasing homes, she suggested. Her counterpart in
“They tend to wait later in their lives or careers to start their families,” the district's chief financial officer said of
Then there's the infamous levy swap, the backbone of new school funding legislation. That policy increased the state school levy to about
The result is that most school districts lost a large chunk of their discretionary funding — dollars that can be spent on anything.
Overall, the district has about
“More money is being vested in K-12 across the state in total,” Blechschmidt said. “What's been misunderstood is how much more money is being invested when you think about the levy swap and all the other moving parts that come together to the
Districts are optimistic for some legislative relief. In particular, they're eyeing budget moves and legislation that could increase the amount of money school districts receive to serve special education students. Still, that's not going to be enough to turn a negative into a positive for area school districts.
“We ultimately have to get to this number,” Merlino said. “I don't really see it getting worse, but whatever the number is, we have to get to it.”
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