(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
DATA POINT DISAGREEMENT: Teachers point to monthly ending balance, school district points to budget projections…
With a forecasted budget shortfall of $450K, the Chewelah School Board voted to make cuts to both staffing and programs during special school board meetings last week.
On April 30, the Chewelah School Board voted on a resolution that cut two full-time teacher positions in the district, upheld current staff cutbacks already enacted this year and will reduced programming for the CTE, drama and social studies programs. As a clarification, McFarland told The Independent that the district will still be offering a full social studies program in grades 7 to 12 but will be modifying programs including the addition of political science with college in the high school credits. The District will also continue to fund and support an after school drama program.
The school board had to hold again on Friday to clarify and add to the resolution another special meeting. Chewelah Superintendent Rich McFarland also took a pay cut as part of the reductions and specified that the cuts in the two teaching positions would include one from the upper elementary level.
According to the district, overall revenue increased this year from $10,050,000 to $10,947,000 but so did expenditures, as they went from $10,075,000 to $11,395,000. This means a shortfall of $448,000.
Despite the approved cuts, McFarland stated that the school’s general fund would likely go below the seven percent threshhold of expenses the school board had set to cover at least a month’s worth of expenses.
“We believe we can do this and ride this out,” McFarland said. “We will continue to just eat the remaining deficit in the ending balance of the general fund.”
In Monday’s meeting, members of the Chewelah teaching staff expressed disapproval of the move, with one member saying that the money is there and that the general fund has gone up by $70K dollars in the last month and $90K according to OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).
The disagreement in views appears to come from the teachers asking what the monthly ending general budget is, while the school board is going off budget projections. Since the money coming in from the state can vary for a variety of reasons, the school district has to rely on projections for the broader picture, but the last two months have seen a growth of the general fund by tens of thousands of dollars.
Projections go until the middle of summer and are also from OSPI. The school district hopes to make the two teaching budget cuts through attrition meaning that a teacher would get a job in another district, get promoted to another position or retire, and a replacement simply wouldn’t get hired. The leaving of an older teacher would be a bigger financial savings because a younger teacher makes less, the board pointed out.
One classified member said that it appeared the teaching staff was being optimistic with the budget numbers, while the school board was being conservative, but said she understood why the school board had to be conservative. The classified staff member stated that she hoped the school board was wrong, and the school board and McFarland said they hoped too that they were being overly conservative with their budget estimates.
The teacher commented that she would like to see the school board be more fluid with their money and spend as the money keeps coming in.
“The general budget doesn’t appear to be dropping,” the teacher said, citing that the grade school could not lose a teacher without it resulting in a large class size. “It makes me nervous we are going way over and haven’t gone backwards. Why all of a sudden are we going to go back a half a million dollars?”
Board member Loretta Burkey said that the board doesn’t want to make cutbacks and no one in the administration does, but the seven percent threshold is important to make monthly expenses if the state delays its money a month, along with unforseen things like the high school boiler, which is 42-years old and will need a couple of hundred thousand dollars to fix. She also stated she wouldn’t want the district to have to borrow money just to make payroll. McFarland said that when it comes to budget projections, he has to trust the local and state business offices on the numbers.
Former board member Clint Kirry asked about what the reductions in programs like CTE, drama and social studies would include, and the board said they were still working out the details on that.
While the recent moves in the state legislature allowed for a higher local level cap and enabling more money to go to schools, the legislature also approved a school employee benefits insurance program that will add more expenses to the Chewelah School District to the the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We are still in process of analyzing the impact of changes in the levy, we should know more at the end of May when OSPI provides additional data,” McFarland said. “The difference between revenue and expenditures will hopefully be less than $450K but we anticipate that it will be pretty close.”
Chewelah is not alone with budget concerns; Spokane Schools announced a $31 million budget shortfall and that they would have to layoff 300+ staff members. This was later revised to just 75 job cuts. The Mead School District is experiencing a $12 million budget shortfall as is Central Valley and perhaps the laying off of 100 employees. This comes after many school districts gave double-digit pay increases to teachers, but if that was the cause of the eventual layoffs is still a point of contention for both teachers and administrators.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Independent got this info by attending both special meetings and emailing Mr. McFarland with follow-up questions.