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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Financial ‘tough decisions’ loom in Washougal School District

Expenses are increasing as revenues decline, officials tell school board

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Washougal school board members approved the Washougal School District’s budget for the 2023-24 school year during their meeting on Aug. 25, but most of their discussions revolved around concerns about the district’s financial state in 2025, 2026 and 2027.

District leaders and board members predicted the district will have to make some “tough decisions” in the next several years to compensate for increasing expenditures and decreasing revenues.

“We want to make sure that we’re clear with our stakeholders, internal and external, that we will continue to have budget challenges. And that will require us to make some hard decisions, just like we did in the spring,” Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “We were very lucky and fortunate that we got to keep our entire team with us, and all of our employees have jobs.

“But as we look at that projected deficit coming into next year, we will continue to be looking for ways to reduce our expenditures, and that’s going to require flexibility, grace and a lot of communication,” Templeton said.

Kris Grindy, the school district’s financial director, told board members her projections indicate the district’s ending fund balance will decline during the next several years, from 8 percent in 2023-24 to 6 percent in 2024-25, and to 5 percent in 2025-26 and 2026-27.

“Our income is not going to match what our expenditures are. We know that costs are rising, and the environment isn’t what it used to be,” board President Cory Chase said. “I just hope that everybody’s prepared. I am OK with adopting this budget as presented right now because I do know that you guys are all recognizing and seeing what’s coming.”

Templeton said the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction requires districts to carry an ending fund balance of at least 3 percent, and a Washougal school board resolution requires the district to carry an ending fund balance of at least 6 percent.

“(Five percent) is not a comfortable number,” school board Vice President Angela Hancock said.

Enrollment slips

Templeton and Grindy told the board their projections are based off of enrollment and expenditure information and are subject to change. However, the 2024-25 school year is projected to “require additional budget reductions, including staffing positions,” according to a document on the school district’s website.

The 2023-24 budget projects that the district will receive $50.39 million in revenues and spend $50.45 million from its general fund.

About 86 percent of those expenditures will cover educator salaries and benefits, with the remaining 14 percent paying for materials, supplies and other costs.

Like in many other Southwest Washington school districts, including the Camas School District, student enrollment in Washougal declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Washougal School District projects its full-time enrollment will be 2,689 students during the 2023-24 school year — down from 2,743 students in 2022-23.

The 2023-24 budget approved by the school board this week includes funding for extracurricular activities such arts, drama, music, athletics and clubs; nursing services; the district’s “College in High School,” dual language, transitional kindergarten, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), early learning and preschool programs; professional learning communities; culinary services; staff wellness; communications; and “market-rate” salaries for educators.

The state allocates $79,944 for every certificated staff member in Washington’s public school districts. The Washougal School District’s average 2023-24 salary for a full-time certificated staff member is $103,077.

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