Snoqualmie Valley adopts budget, levies $2 million less than planned

Months after cutting more than $1 million in expenses and staff, the Snoqualmie Valley School District had some good budget news.

At their July 12 meeting, members of the School Board adopted the 2012-13 budget, which projected almost $2 million less in taxes to be levied, a smaller than expected loss of staff with a gain in classified staff, and a very slight increase in the general fund balance.

The tax decrease, the second in consecutive years, resulted from the state cap on the amount districts can levy for maintenance and operations funds at 28 percent. Voters in the district approved an M&O levy amount of up to $15 million annually but the district can collect only $13.1 million this year, explained Business Services Director Ryan Stokes.

Increased state funding for Title 1 programs, combined with the district's other cost-cutting measures leave the district with an anticipated $180,000 gain for the general fund balance, for a total of $2,781,314. However, Stokes said the district is also anticipating up to a 10 percent reduction in federal funding this winter, and "we will also be working hard to hold back spending until we know more about (that)," he told the board.

Next year's budget reflects a loss of only seven FTE teachers ("that's after our enrollment true-up," Stokes said) and an additional 10 classified staff members, thanks in part to the additional Title 1 funds.

These gains were offset by strong criticism of the district's capital expenditure numbers, though.

Parents Anna Sotelo and David Spring both asked the board to plan better. Sotelo questioned the $4 million budgeted for portable classrooms and the lack of budget figures specifically for the upcoming bond for a new middle school. Spring criticized the board's recent budget reduction plan that eliminated teachers, and urged the board to eliminate capital expenditures for portables and abandon plans for a middle school bond, saying "they're not needed when we're firing teachers."

Stokes noted that the $4 million in capital expenditures was actually about $3 million in renovations to Snoqualmie Middle School, using funds approved for SMS projects in a 2008 bond, and about $1 million for portable classrooms. He also said the district estimated it would need 12 to 14 portables at the two middle schools next year when SMS is annexed to the high school.

Board member Carolyn Simpson was hesitant to vote on the capital facilities fund, one of five total funds that comprise the $70 million annual district budget.

Specifically, she was also concerned about the $4 million budgeted for the transition to the two middle-school model plus a freshman campus. "I think we have some work left to do before we spend that amount of taxpayer money."

Simpson voted against the budget, stating that her opposition was only to the capital expenditures fund, which she had requested be part of a separate vote. That request was denied, however.

Board members Marci Busby and Geoff Doy, who was on the phone, voted in favor of the budget. With Doy's presence on the phone, the board had a quorum, and the budget vote needed only a simple majority.

Following the vote, Doy commented that he understood Simpson's concerns, but said they were in regard to two decisions the board has already committed to, the SMS renovation and the creation of a freshman campus. While he didn't necessarily agree with them, he said, "I don't see either of those votes being turned over in any foreseeable circumstances… so I think this is practical way of progressing."


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