With Edmonds School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine McDuffy unavailable due to a unexpected family emergency, it was district Assistant Superintendent Dr. Justin Irish that filled in during an informational community meeting held Monday at Mountlake Terrace High School
And most of the questions directed to Irish concerned the district’s projected budget shortfalls that were announced earlier this year.
About two dozen people gathered in the Mountlake Terrace High School library to ask Irish about the district’s budgets, salary increases granted to teachers, class sizes, school overcrowding and a variety of other topics. But the bulk of the questions concerned the budget projections that, starting this year and extending through the 2022-2023 school year, show annual deficits that will top out at more than $39 million.
“We are in the process of trying to understand the deficits and understand the different formulas to really know where the gaps are,” Irish told those in attendance.
Irish called the district’s budget deficits and how to face them a state “funding crisis.”
“We are playing catch-up trying to learn, alongside all the other superintendents and other districts in the region. And we don’t know how the state is going to respond with this crisis,” Irish said. “There is going to be a gap in all districts, not just Edmonds School District; all districts are going to be facing a funding crisis.”
Despite a big increase in district funding from the State of Washington — “We are getting a lot more money,” Irish noted — the Edmonds School District is projecting its deficits on the heels of approving district teachers raises of as much as 20 percent in August (https://mltnews.com/tentative-agreement-between-teachers-union-school-district-increases-teacher-salaries/). But Irish didn’t connect the district’s projected deficits with the increase in teacher salaries
“It’s not just about teachers’ salaries; this is about the state not fulfilling its paramount duty to support and fund public education,” he said.
Not all in attendance at the meeting sided with Irish on where fault should lie for the district’s projected budget deficits. “I’m having a hard time grasping passing/doing the agreement to give the 20 percent raise when you’re projecting out three years that we’re going to be in the red, we don’t know where the money’s coming from,” said one attendee. “I’m just trying to follow the logical thought.”
The school district has hopes that the state will increase funding to help pay for specific programs and staffing, such as for special education, said Irish.
“Will the state respond? I don’t know, but we have to plan for multiple possibilities,” he stated.
Irish did have some advice for those concerned about the district’s projected budget deficits. “I would recommend contacting your legislators — it’s the only thing that you can do,” he said.
— By Doug Petrowski