SVSD anticipates large spending cuts next year, but no plans for layoffs

A preliminary update shows district needs to cut spending by at least $2.7 million next year

Snoqualmie Valley schools are anticipating significant spending cuts as part of next year’s budget.

During a preliminary budget update last week, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Stokes told the school board the district anticipates needing to reduce spending by at least $2.7 million as part of the 2023-24 budget. That includes possible spending reductions of up to $3 million.

“With persistent gaps in our state’s funding model for public schools, particularly in special education, transportation, and food services, and the sunsetting of federal COVID relief funds, districts across the state face unique budget challenges,” Conor Laffey, a district spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Laffey said cutbacks will require careful planning, but they “strongly believe” they can make spending reductions through staffing attrition, department budget cuts and other reductions without need for layoffs.

“Our goal remains to prioritize reductions with little or no impact on student learning,” he said. “We feel very fortunate that the reductions we need are significantly less than some other school districts in our state.”

Cutbacks are being driven primarily by lower than expected enrollment alongside high inflation, Stokes said.

Washington allocates education funding based on district enrollment. Since the pandemic, SVSD has not seen its student population rebound as anticipated.

“Enrollment hasn’t rebounded in the way we expected and the demographer’s report is showing no incline over the next couple years,” Stokes said.

Although SVSD has gained 131 students compared to where it was six years ago, the district has seen decreases at elementary levels, according to a consultant’s report prepared for the district. The district has 302 fewer students in grades K-6 now compared to six years ago.

SVSD enrollment peaked during the 2019-20 school year, with over 7,000 students enrolled. But the following year, the first full year since the pandemic, district enrollment dropped by over 300 students.

Much of that can be attributed to low kindergarten registration, where nearly 200 fewer students enrolled between the two school years.

Enrollment has rebounded close to where it was pre-pandemic, but has yet to crest 7,000 students again, nor reach what the district had originally projected.

SVSD is one of several districts in King County dealing with the fallout of low enrollment. Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island school districts have all reported similar challenges, and in some instances considered layoffs or school closures.

At this point, Stokes said SVSD is recommending staffing adjustments via retirements and resignations rather than going through layoffs.

“Where we’re currently at, we feel pretty confident we can get there in the next couple months,” Stokes said of the resignations and retirements. “At this point, we’re not recommending going through a [reduction in force] process.”

Alongside staffing adjustments, Stokes said the district plans to restructure its class sizes to better reflect its current student population. Since enrollment was not as high as anticipated, he said they have been “carrying better class sizes than are probably sustainable.”

Those adjustments are estimated to produce over half the district’s needed cuts.

Stokes said the district plans to make other staffing adjustments to ESSER-funded positions. ESSER — Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief — are one-time federal COVID-19 relief dollars provided to school districts.

SVSD received $3.7 million in the most recent round of ESSER funding and has about $1.1 million of that allotment remaining for the 2023-24 school year, according to a presentation last year. Stokes said the district is making minor adjustments to prepare for when that funding disappears.

This story was updated to add comment from a district spokesperson.