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School board reviews possible budget reductions

In preparation for the possibility that the April levy measure fails, School Board members are beginning the process of planning how to handle a forecasted deficit of $11.7 million for next school year.


After the three proposed levy measures failed in February, board members listened to community members and weighed their requests against the district’s need to be able to pay for current staff members and programs. Voters in the Tahoma School District will consider in the April 24 election whether to approve a two-year replacement operations levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would collect $10.7 million the first year and $11.8 million the second year. If the levy passes, the district’s budget will be close to balanced.


The district will end this year with about $14.8 million in reserve funds, but could drain those to $3.2 million to cover the deficit next year, which would be about 3.3 percent of the general fund. Finance Director Lori Cloud said she recommends that the board not allow the reserve fund to dip below $8 million, or about 8 percent.


Deciding where to cut in order to make up for the lost levy dollars is a huge task, Board President Mary Jane Glaser said, during a work-study session on Tuesday, March 6.


Board member Didem Pierson agreed: “Just asking the questions is hard.”


Although the failed technology levy and bus levy are still needed, the School Board prioritized the operations levy. They also decided to create two citizen oversight committees: one for general levy funds, and one specific to spending of technology levy dollars.


At the March 6 meeting, Cloud shared reports with the board that examine revenue, expenditures, the fund balance, and predicted deficits that will occur if the levy fails. The expenditures are each based on continuing programs and retaining current staff. To see the reports, follow the links at the bottom of this article.


The largest portion of any school district budget is in its staff salaries and benefits; in Tahoma, it’s about 88 percent. Much of the discussion last night focused on how Tahoma can continue to employ the best teachers and staff members possible for its students.


“This is where the business model does not work for schools: Do you want the principal to hire the best teacher they can find, or the cheapest teacher they can find, when they’re hiring your child’s teacher?” Superintendent Rob Morrow asked. “Why did we choose to do $1.50 (per $1,000)? We want to be able to pay and retain our quality staff here, and TRI (Time, Responsibility and Incentive) dollars are still going to be part of the salary package that we have. … McCleary is not covering the total cost of what it’s going to cost to do business in our school districts, just from the teacher pay standpoint.”


Classified salaries were also discussed. The district is in the third year of a five-year contract designed to bring classified salaries up to the average of surrounding districts. Before the contract began, Tahoma’s classified members’ pay was the 16th lowest out of 17 surrounding districts. Board members said that they are very worried at the prospect of needing to cut classified staff members such as paraeducators who help provide small group reading support, safety positions such as crossing guards and other roles that directly affect students.


These programs and staff positions are not fully funded by state and federal dollars and among options that the board members will consider cutting in order to balance the budget if the levy fails:


  • Special education is supplemented through local levy funds. Estimated unfunded cost: $5.3 million.
  • Summation of other staff costs, such as maintenance, paraeducators, librarians, support staff, office staff, technology staff not otherwise listed. We will provide more details on this category soon. Estimated unfunded cost: $1.92 million.
  • All sports and extracurricular activities. Estimated unfunded cost: $1.36 million.
  • In order to pay teachers competitively, Tahoma uses local levy dollars. Estimated unfunded cost: $3.85 million.
  • Other certificated staff members who fill positions such as psychologists, counselors and instructional coaches. Estimated unfunded cost: $1.47 million.
  • Tahoma’s custodians are not fully funded by the state. Estimated unfunded cost: $940,447.
  • As part of the model review process, a committee of parents, students, staff and administrators recommended that Tahoma High School implement an 8-period schedule at Tahoma High School. The change allows students to have a small amount of room for error while still earning enough credits to graduate. With the six-period schedule, students would be in a “pass-all” situation in order to take all the state requirements and earn 24 credits needed to graduate. The 8-period schedule also offers expanded elective options. The change required about 8 FTE additional positions. Estimated unfunded cost: $889,051.
  • The state does not fully fund substitute teachers. Estimated unfunded cost: $868,163.
  • Transportation costs including staff, maintenance, and more. Estimated unfunded cost: $506,876.
  • Tahoma’s nurses are not fully funded by the state. Estimated unfunded cost: $416,091
  • Math Assistance Program, which offers pull-out support for students struggling in math at the elementary level, serves 309 students from the six elementary schools. Teachers refer additional students to the program regularly. There are no funds from the state to pay for this program. Estimated unfunded cost: $424,370.
  • Tahoma’s safety and security is not fully funded. Estimated unfunded cost: $216,950.


Some services and programs, such as the Extended Enrichment Program (EEP), are considered revenue-neutral but are not supported by the state. Such programs have indirect costs such as lighting, heating, toilet paper, custodial service that are currently not paid by the program. There are EEP services at each of the six elementary sites, which provide before- and after-school care for students. Parents pay to enroll their children in the program.


Board members and staff will attempt to keep all discussions at the program level, wherever possible to minimize the impact to staff morale.


“I’ve been through this a couple of times, and I can remember distinctly that you don’t recover for a long time. The stress that this puts on the system is very, very challenging,” Morrow said. “One of the things I want to be hesitant of doing is saying: ‘We’re going to cut five counselors or 12 teachers (by name). … Those are real people with real lives and jobs.


The board has asked for additional details, and information about which elements and staff positions must be kept by law in programs such as Special Education, among others. They will work with staff to set parameters for the process, such as class sizes and maintaining equity of programs and services.


Board members will host three forums for community members to hear more in person and ask questions. Those will be at 6 p.m. on March 21, March 29 and April 2 at the district central office.


To see details from last night’s presentation, click here: http://www.tahomasd.us/pages/Tahoma_School_District_409/News/Budget_impacts_from_levy_failu

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