School budget shortfall grows

Despite voter approval of a $27.5 million school bond, the Snoqualmie Valley School District faces a growing budget crisis compounded by Washington state’s budget deficit and slowed enrollment growth.

The district expects operating costs for the 2009-2010 school year to exceed revenue by $3.5 million.

Money raised by the new bond can only be used in the district’s capital budget, which covers expenses for building projects, purchase of new land and renovations and improvements to physical structures.

The district is looking for areas to cut costs and reduce the shortfall, which is equivalent to about 7 percent of district general operating expenditures.

Roughly $1.5 million of the shortfall is a local deficit due to rising costs, and $2 million is the estimated reduction caused by the state’s $8 billion deficit.

The district will try to bring a balanced budget to the board by June. It will engage the community in identifying areas to cut.

A survey has already been mailed to Valley residents and is available at the school district Web site,

The first potential area for cutting costs will be non-employee related costs, according to the district’s Web site. However, cuts will also likely have to be made from non-teaching staff and, possibly, the teaching staff.

In the 2008-2009 budget, 82 percent of the district’s general operating budget paid employee salaries and benefits.

The budget crisis is the result of a “perfect storm” of increased state and federal requirements, increased student needs, increased community expectations, increased costs and decreasing local, state and federal revenue, according to Joel Aune, the district superintendent.

Unfunded and partially funded state and federal mandates cost the district up to $5 million each year. For example, the state only pays for five periods a day and does not pay for extracurricular activities. The district also has to pay for the ongoing operating costs of Twin Falls Middle School, which enrollment growth had been expected to pay for. Additionally, the cost of energy, food, transportation and insurance, among other expenditures, have increased in recent years.

With the economic recession, the district could be facing several years of financial difficulty.

“Our kids don’t have three years,” Aune said at a school board meeting, Thursday, March 12.

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