Vancouver Public Schools officials blame a maelstrom of factors leading to one thing: the need for multimillion-dollar budget cuts in the coming years.
Despite the success of its educational program and technology levies this week, Clark County’s second-largest school district says it needs to make $14.3 million in budget cuts for the 2019-2020 school year. That’s up from the $12 million budget shortfall the district was projecting last month. At fault, according to district officials, is the decline of local levy revenues, newly adopted contracts with the district’s teacher and support staff unions and a projected decline in enrollment.
The district is projecting the elimination of five district-level administrative positions, 15 teacher-on-special-assignment positions, 5 percent cuts to central office and support service hourly staff positions, and yet-to-be-announced certificated staff cuts. The district also plans to spend $3.8 million out of its ending fund balance, which is projected in 2019-2020 to be $33.2 million, about $2 million less than in the 2018-2019 school year, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Superintendent Steve Webb has been harshly critical of the new school funding model approved by the Legislature last year, saying the Legislature’s response to the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court decision was insufficient to fully fund education.
“These are incredibly difficult choices, and I am deeply frustrated that the Legislature’s response to the McCleary lawsuit has worsened our fiscal position,” Webb said in a news release Wednesday. “Our employees do amazing work with our students and families every day.”
Washington’s new school funding formula relies on increased state taxes and decreased local taxes, a so-called “levy swap,” meaning that as school districts receive more state money, their local revenues decline.
The net effect for Vancouver Public Schools is an increase in revenue in 2019, even with the projected budget cuts. The district is expected to receive $324 million in revenue for the 2019-2020 school year, up from $300 million in the 2017-2018 school year, the last year before the new school funding formula went into effect, according to OSPI documents.
Other districts in the state are not in that position, according to the Washington Association of School Administrators. WASA Executive Director Joel Aune wrote in a news release that the decline of local levy funding has left about a third of the state’s school districts — 100 districts — with less money than in years past.
“Without legislative action this session, many school districts across the state face grim consequences, including program and staff cuts of significant magnitude,” Aune said.
Vancouver district officials, however, point to compounding factors in this year’s budget deficit, like its contract agreements with the Vancouver Education Association and the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals, as partly to blame for the deficit.
Chief fiscal officer Brett Blechschmidt pointed to a new reason for the deficit at Tuesday’s school board meeting: declining enrollment. According to a report by local demographer Eric Hovee of E.D. Hovee and Co., the district could see 458 fewer students next year than its current enrollment of about 24,000. Because schools are funded based on the number of students in attendance, that means $2.3 million less coming into the district next year.
“We’ve got a more senior homeowner base, and even the folks that are coming in to buy some homes are waiting longer to have children,” Blechschmidt said.
Vancouver Public Schools will present more budget cuts at its Feb. 26 school board meeting.