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Grand Coulee Dam School budget balanced, but not for long


Last updated 7/31/2019 at 9:23am

The school district will draw on reserves to run Lake Roosevelt Schools for the next couple years, a budget approved last week shows, but financial losses are projected in later years, an issue the superintendent hopes to solve.

Grand Coulee Dam School District directors at a July 22 meeting approved a 2019-20 school year budget of approximately $12.9 million in expenditures, up from $12 million last year.

With an anticipated enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grades of 701 students, that makes for an average of $18,400 per student.

Much of the budget is for “Regular Instruction,” which takes up $6 million; “Support Services,” totalling $3 million; “Special Education Instruction,” taking up $1.4 million; and “Compensatory Education,” taking up $1.3 million, among other items.

Anticipated revenue for the 2019-20 school year is around $12.3 million, almost $600,000 less than expenditures for the year. Superintendent Paul Turner explained that a mistake in the utilities budget, overestimated by about $150,000, means that the discrepancy between expenses and revenue is actually closer to $450,000.

Still, that number needs to be addressed, and Turner stressed the importance of matching the expenses with the revenue.

“I’ve got to figure out how to reduce my expenditures,” Turner said. “I’ve got to close this gap. No matter how I do it, I’ve got to close this gap.”

A beginning fund balance of nearly $1.2 million for the 2019-20 school year shrinks to about $640,000 for the 2020-21 school year, $37,000 for the 2021-22 school year, and a negative $623,000 for the 2022-23 school year based on current projections.

Turner said this has been caused by changes in state law, and that many other school districts are in the same boat.

The 2012 McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t fully funding basic education, and it required the Legislature to do something about it.

To fulfill the requirement, the state, in essence, then told districts they couldn’t ask for as much money in levies and began taking 81 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value for the state to fund basic education — money formerly taken by the local schools in “operations and maintenance” levies.

New laws changed the former O&M levy into two separate levies — a capital projects levy, and an enrichment levy.

Additional restrictions on how schools could spend money collected from those levies, plus increases in salaries and other additional expenses, further complicate the budget process.

“We’re going to be peeling the onion pretty tight,” Turner said about fixing the budget problem. “I think the big place to look at is [Maintenance, Supplies and Operating Cost].”

Turner said he plans to talk to legislators about the budget problem, and anticipates other school districts doing the same. But he didn’t know of any bills currently in the works addressing the issue of school districts losing money.

T. J. Kelly, director of School Apportionment and Financial Services at the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, explained that legislation OSPI had proposed to revise levy laws didn’t go through as they proposed. But the state is allowing districts to levy for an extra $1 per thousand dollars of assessed property values in their “enrichment” levies, up from $1.50 per thousand to $2.50.

Kelly said many districts are weary of “voter fatigue,” a sentiment that Turner shares, having just passed both a capital projects levy and an enrichment levy.

Kelly also explained that what is causing many districts to struggle isn’t the dollar amount that districts have, but how they are allowed to spend it. More restrictions come with the money now replacing what districts lost in the so-called “McCleary Fix.”

Turner said that the $700,000 to $800,000 lost from levies had a broad range of ways it could be spent, whereas the money, roughly the same amount, received back from the state’s basic education fund, has more specific ways in which it must be spent.

Think of it this way: If you had $50 taken away from you, but were then given a $50 Starbucks gift card and told to pay your utility bill, you’d likely be frustrated.

“Essentially, they lost a lot of money that is flexible, and the Legislature has given it back with a lot of strings attached,” Kelly said.

Turner said that although staffing levels would be looked at in terms of possible cuts, the situation is nuanced in that the district receives money from the state to pay for a certain amount of both teachers and paraprofessionals, based on student enrollment; cuts there wouldn’t actually save money.

Turner also explained that other staff, not in those categories, such as secretaries and custodians, are needed to do work that needs to be done, and that the district isn’t overstaffed in those areas.

He also doesn’t anticipate programs being cut.

“We’ve got to look at everything this year and see where we can trim that $600,000,” Turner said, adding that he anticipates having ideas before the end of the calendar year to figure into next school year’s numbers.


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