Valley school board braces for current-year budget cuts, calls on Legislature to fund education

The Snoqualmie Valley School District lost $325,000 in state funding for the current school year in December, and may lose more as a result of the current legislative session.

These mid-year adjustments "are pretty much unheard of," Director of Business Services Ryan Stokes told the school board Jan. 6 as he gave a budget update. However, the state is facing a billion-dollar revenue shortfall and to address it, Gov. Christine Gregoire is proposing still more cuts to school spending. Two of her proposals would eliminate funding for K-4 class reduction and highly-capable programs, retroactive to the start of the school year.

If the Legislature approves Gregoire's recommendations without change, Stokes estimates the loss to the district would be between $700,000 and $800,000.

Speaking in December, Aune said the $325,000 loss alone would be difficult to absorb, because the district has already committed those funds. The school board adopted the $55 million budget for the 2010-11 school year July 8, 2010, and staff payroll accounts for about 80 percent of that.

Also, Aune said, the district lost about $6 million in state funding in the past four years.

"We like to think they've taken it as far as they can go," he said.

Until the legislature votes on the budget amendment for the 2009-11 biennium, though, the school district won't know for sure. Stokes anticipates that the budget will be one of the law-makers' first priorities, but "with the gravity of the situation, there's already rumors that the legislative session will drag on," he told the board.

The only definite current-year cuts so far are the $325,000 reduction resulting from the Dec. 11 special legislative session, and the state's reduction of $1.2 million, the amount of a federal stimulus payment the district was slated to receive over the next two years. Stokes said the district had intended to use the stimulus funds to reduce its expenses on pension payments. The legislature's vote to offset its funding with the federal money will force the district to claim all of the federal money this year.

The district has no firm ideas on how to make up the loss yet, but Stokes said "It is likely that we have to absorb some of that through our general fund."

The general fund balance is currently about $4.2 million.

Complicating the entire process is the work that will soon begin on the 2011-12 budget. Although the board has until August to adopt the budget, it must notify teaching staff by May 15 if there is a chance of a change in individuals' contracts.

"We have to give them notice that their job is not protected for the coming year," Stokes explained, but only if the board determines that staff changes are needed. Non-teaching staff must receive a similar notification in June.

Later in the meeting, in an apparent show of board members' frustration with state education funding, the board unanimously voted to join the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools. NEWS represents some 200 organizations, including the individuals who filed a successful lawsuit against the state legislature for its unconstitutional funding of K-12 education.

The state constitution declares it the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing in the state, yet the lawsuit claims that the state has underfunded public education while continuing to add requirements to school districts, forcing them to rely on local levies.

The lawsuit concluded with a Feb. 4, 2010 ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, but the legislature has indicated it will appeal the ruling this February.

District 5 State Representative Glenn Anderson is also calling on the state to fully fund K-12 education. He announced at a Dec. 17 breakfast with district representatives that he will propose that the legislature fund education first in its planning for the 2011-13 biennium budget.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District board will begin reviewing potential solutions to the budget cuts at a 6:30 p.m. workshop before its next regular meeting, Jan. 20 in the school district office.

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