CAMAS — The Camas School Board last week approved a $132 million 2021-22 budget that takes $6.5 million out of fund balances to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, decreased student enrollment and COVID-19 relief funds that were disproportionately low compared to similarly sized school districts in Washington.
“The 2020-21 fiscal year was perhaps the most uncertain in the history of K-12 education,” Jasen McEathron, the Camas School District’s director of business services, told the Camas School Board on Monday. “The COVID-driven changes in policy and educational practices made 2020-21 extremely difficult to forecast.”
The school district also has had “unprecedented enrollment volatility” since the start of the pandemic in 2020, McEathron added.
“We experienced a 6 to 7 percent enrollment loss this past year,” McEathron said.
The 2021-22 school district budget is based on an assumption that the district will recover roughly half of that lost enrollment.
“We felt as though that was a conservative approach to take,” McEathron said, adding that the district’s enrollment losses “were consistent” with other districts in the region and throughout Washington.
“Through the work of the budget committee, we decided on a projected 2021-22 enrollment of 7,018 students. … “This represents a net gain of 3 percent over our current enrollment,” McEathron said, but he said it is still below the district’s pre-pandemic enrollment levels.
“Given the high level of new development in our community and the opportunity to welcome back students to full-time, in-person instruction, we believe the 3 percent increase in enrollment is a reasonable budget parameter,” McEathron said. “However, from a service standpoint, we will be striving to safely welcome back all students in the community and hope to exceed our budgeted enrollment.”
A four-year projection shows Camas school officials also believe enrollment rates will start to rebound, but may level off over the next four years.
“In this model, we’ve put enrollment gains where we were pre-COVID,” but then the trend starts to level off due to “declining birth rates,” McEathron said. “We know that COVID has further declined those (birth) rates.”
The school district plans to return to a pre-pandemic learning schedule this fall, with five full days of in-person instruction each week and a fully remote, five-day-a-week Camas Connect Academy option for families who do not want to return to in-person classes.
The 2021-22 school district budget includes $114.4 million in general fund expenditures, which includes funding for 483.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) certificated staff (teachers, principals, central office administrators) and 274.5 FTE classified staff.
McEathron said revenues are expected to be 4.3 percent higher in 2021-22 than in 2020-21, and to include $1.6 million in federal and state COVID-19 relief funds as well as the planned use of the $6.5 million from the district’s fund balance. Expenditures also are expected to be 11.4 percent higher in 2021-22 over 2020-21 levels, with 87 percent of the district’s general fund expenses going toward personnel costs.
The district will end the 2021-22 school year with a 9.7 percent fund balance.