(COLIN HAFFNER/Chewelah Independent)
LOOKING AT NUMBERS: Packed district office present for budget cut presentation due to McCleary budget woes…
Members of the Chewelah School District leadership sat down on March 27 to talk about the district’s budget for this and the upcoming year, inviting the community to join them and get a first-hand account of what is happening.
Superintendent Rich McFarland, joined by school board members and school administrators, started the meeting by welcoming the full room of community members and educators and inviting them to share their feedback and concerns by filling out feedback forms or talking with leadership after the presentation. He then dove into the budget with Business Manager Mara Schneider.
McFarland noted that the original budget was created on data and anticipated revenue/expenditures last spring. Since then, conditions of revenue and expenses have changed due to enrollment increases and other factors such as grants which meant the budget needed to be revised.
Kindergarten had a bigger influx of attendance, leading to adding one kindergarten teacher: conversely enrollment dropped in the Junior and Senior High school. Home Link has an increase in enrollment meaning additional needs in programming and staff, moving from a half time teacher in October to full time in December.
Enrollment numbers are tied into funds from the state, and drive revenue. Additional revenue for enrollment went to both general fund apportionment and special education apportionment. The district also received grant money, such as the Gess Elementary music grant, which must be utilized specifically for the purpose of the grant.
Special education revenue went up $168,000, but must be spent on special education students.
It was explained that the money received for student enrollment must be spent on education programs for the students during the current academic year. Projections are used for the initial budget, but actual revenue for students is not truly known until January.
A question was asked in regard to the McCleary money decision and how that was identified. It was shared that that revenue was built into the general fund apportionment at the beginning of the year, but they did not have exact numbers on hand at the time of the question.
The presentation then moved on to expenditures, which included the negotiated saleries for educators and classified employees. The negotiations resulted in expenditures of about $553,000 more than what was originally budgeted. It was explained the district did not know where the negotiations were going to go expense-wise, and the original budget was much lower than final numbers.
The budget needed revision to reflect the higher number. Additional expenses also went to Paid Family Medical Leave through the current school year ending in August and budgeting for increased expenses for the change in enrollment in all the school programs.
Grant funding received in some areas was a little higher than expected so the specific spending in those areas tied to the grants went up.
Other expense increases went to insurance and liability, information services expenditures (the program used for checking student grades) and transportation funding.
A question was asked as to where the expenses for the consultants working on the facility grant application for the district came from. Schneider said she believed that expense came from the board fees. It was explained that there was originally budgeted $100,000 for board fees that include things like legal fees. There was no increase in expenditures for board fees, so it was not included in the presentation.
Overall revenue increased from $10,050,000 to $10,947,000. Expenditures went from $10,075,000 to $11,395,000, or a shortfall of $448,000. Schneider said the year started with a pretty healthy fund balance, originally anticipated only needing about $25,000 from a balance that began at $1,043,000. McFarland noted the concern is that they had anticipated being able to carry over close to $1 mil. into the fund balance, but they are now spending much faster than the revenue coming in, saying the district is not sustainable at this rate. Schneider pointed out the anticipated ending fund balance is one payroll, which is needed due to lag time in revenue from state funding. Both McFarland and Schneider also stated they are exploring places they can reduce expenses throughout the current school year to moderate costs, and this could help reduce the impact on the fund balance in the end.
McFarland then spoke to an issue being discussed with state legislature in regard to the unexpected changes and increases to salaries and benefits from the McCleary decision to the tune of an extra $267,000 in the next school year alone.
One commentor talked about the need to have more clarity in how the McCleary money was allocated, including specific numbers, stating that it looks like the district is trying to hide something by not having the specific numbers to share when it is continually referenced as part of the reason for the budget shortfall at meetings.
Teachers union representative and Gess Teacher Lori Paluck noted that the state law would give Chewelah $550,000, and the Governor’s plan would give more than $800,000 if enacted based on enrollment numbers, intonating there is no real knowledge as to how much the district will receive based on enrollment numbers in the next year.
Schneider presented a prototypical funding model based on OSPI for a district such as Chewelah. The model projects prototypical staffing numbers based on the district size and is used to
determine state funding for those districts. For example, the model says the district should have 2.75 administrators and 36.158 educators. Comparatively, Chewelah has 4 administrators and 52 educators. This means state funding for increases such as McCleary is based on the prototypical model while negotiations must account for staffing over that number.
McFarland then moved on to looking at next year. He noted that they have enrollment increases that help offset costs, but they still must address needs.
It was asked when the local levy would run out. It was explained that levy would run out in 2020. There was further question about how the state was able to take some of that levy money that was passed by the local community.
McFarland said solutions to the funding issues unfortunately mean reductions, as well as reducing supply costs and expenditures. He also noted that they are looking at what grants they might be able to secure, but there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead of the district to address the needs.
McFarland also talked about how other districts differ from Chewelah. He noted Inchelium received extra funding from impact dollars (federal funding for Native American population), and Valley District kept to the state salary schedule because they are a non-union district, as well as they get extra funding for enrollment due to their online school program bringing their enrollment numbers up.
School Board member Loretta Burkey referenced a report from the state that said the number of districts in trouble was in the hundreds, with some facing deficits in the millions.
McFarland then invited the audience again to meet with leadership that would be stationed around the room to follow up with their questions and concerns, concluding the meeting in its forum format.