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Evergreen Public Schools’ expected budget deficit drops

District says red ink falls from $18M to $12M

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: May 20, 2019, 9:07pm

Clark County’s largest school district has tapered back its expected budget cuts, but is still eyeing a nearly $12 million deficit in the 2019-2020 school year.

Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent Mike Merlino unveiled a narrower set of budget cuts facing the 25,500-student school district at a Heritage High School forum Monday. All told, the district’s deficit is $11,955,000, down from the $17,910,000 projected earlier this year. Evergreen Public Schools’ total revenue in 2019-2020 will be about $339 million, according to recently released numbers from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Highlights of the updated budget cuts include a steep reduction in the number of teaching positions on the chopping block, from 49 to 19. That doesn’t mean that 19 people will be laid off, Merlino explained. About eight of those positions have already been eliminated through attrition — retirements or people leaving the district for other reasons — and he remains optimistic that more staff will depart as the school year winds down, meaning no teachers would lose their jobs. Enrollment in the district is expected to decline by about 295 students next year, driving the reduction in teaching staff, he said.

The district is also increasing the amount of fund balance, or savings, that it’s using to alleviate the deficit. The district now plans to use $2.5 million of its fund balance, up from the previously planned $1.7 million.

The district is also trimming its print shop for a savings of $200,000, reducing or restructuring library media assistant staff to save $405,000 and, most significantly, eliminating 32 central administrative staff positions for a savings of $4,265,000.

Most Clark County school districts are facing budget deficits for the upcoming school year. They point to increased labor costs, exacerbated by last year’s salary increases for teachers, as well as declining enrollment and new limitations on how state money can be spent.

But the 2019-2021 state budget offered some relief. Districts can collect more money on local levies, up from $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value to $2.50 per $1,000, though Merlino said the district would have to ask voters to approve another levy when they just approved one at that lower rate in February.

That “wasn’t a real option,” he said, saying the district is focused on “rebuilding relationships” with its families.

The district is also receiving more special education funding to the tune of another $1 million to $1.5 million, he said. The most significant impact on the district’s budget, however, was the about $6.3 million in one-time money secured by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver. Both Evergreen and Vancouver public schools will receive the extra money this year to alleviate budget deficits, the only two districts in the state to do so.

Since taking over as superintendent following John Steach’s resignation, Merlino has pledged a “more transparent” process as the district develops its budget.

There will be a second budget forum at 6 p.m. May 30 at Mountain View High School. The budget will be adopted over the summer.

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