School district tightens budget

The Snoqualmie Valley School District will tap into reserve funds and make some tough cuts to reconcile its 2008-09 budget, but administrators are even more concerned about the following year’s plan.

In 2003, the school board started started setting extra money aside in anticipation of the opening of Twin Falls Middle School, which will be up and running in September. Those reserve funds, however, will be depleted by 2009-10, said Ron Ellis, the district’s financial director.

Squeezing costs

“We have been squeezing the non-employee-related costs,” Ellis said of his work to keep the district in the black for next year.

That’s meant eliminating positions the district had hoped to add, like new custodians, a grounds worker, and a mechanic.

With a new middle school campus to maintain, “we will have significant challenges trying to maintain the infrastructure” of the district’s schools, Ellis said.

There will also be a 15 percent across-the-board reduction in the “school unit budgets,” which schools spend at their discretion on things like supplies, furniture and contracted services. Technology likely won’t be affected, because about 5 percent of the unit budget reductions will be offset by funds from a 2006 technology levy, Ellis said.

Ellis expects this year’s reductions won’t affect student learning, but more drastic cuts may be necessary next year.

“When we go into ‘09-’10, all bets are off. I can’t guarantee anything,” Ellis told the school board at its June 26 meeting.

Operating costs are up, with prices for fuel, utilities and food skyrocketing. Like other school districts in Washington, the SVSD is also dealing with an ever-growing list of unfunded and underfunded mandates from the state.

One such mandate is a 5.1 percent cost of living adjustment for employees. The state requires that the district increase the pay of certified staff, but for every dollar the state funds, the district must come up with a 31 cent match. For every dollar of classified employee funding, the district must find 85 cents.

Employee compensation currently makes up more than 81 percent of the district’s total budget; last year, that number was closer to 78 percent.

If the district doesn’t have much control over many of its costs, it has even less control over its revenue, said district spokeswoman Carolyn Malcolm.

Most revenues come from the state, which distributes funds on a per-student basis depending on a district’s demographics. Factors affecting funding include the number of languages spoken, the number of special education students enrolled, and how many students qualify for free and reduced lunches. A relatively homogenous and affluent district, the Snoqualmie Valley receives the least per-student funding of the East King County school districts.

The district is also facing a slowing in enrollment growth, Malcolm said.

One funding source the district does have control over is non-tax fees, such as school property rentals and participation fees. Currently, the district keeps these fees low so community members can enjoy school facilities, and students can play sports and do other activities at non-prohibitive costs, Malcolm said. That may change, though, in 2009, as the district may have to increase fees to make them more in line with operating costs.

On July 10, the district will hold a public hearing on the budget, and the board will vote to either approve it or send it back to the drawing board. A budget must be officially adopted by August 31, Malcolm said.

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