State budget to increase K-3 spending, decrease local levies

If one thing is clear about how the recently passed state budget will affect local schools, it’s that nothing is clear yet about how the recently passed budget will affect local schools.

Ever since the budget was signed into law on June 30, Edmonds School District officials have been poring over the documents to make heads or tails of it. There are many changes, some resulting in increases and some in decreases for the district’s budget, and overall it remains to be seen if schools will see an overall gain or loss in dollars.

The budget was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee after 11 p.m. on June 30, avoiding a government shutdown by less than one hour. Our online news partner The Seattle Times reported the $43.7 billion two-year budget “would increase the state property tax earmarked for schools, but reduce and cap local school-district tax levies.”

The effect the new budget will have on local levies is a big question mark for the Edmonds School District, Stewart Mhyre, executive director of business and operations for the district, told the school board Tuesday night during a study session following its regular meeting. Though the changes to local levies won’t take effect until 2019, the amount the district expects to receive will drop to $45.1 million, from $66.5 million projected for 2018.

That is because the cap on local levies for 2019 will be $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value, according to the recently passed budget. In 2018, the district levy will be at $2.36 per $1,000 assessed property value.

Levy changes will also limit what levy dollars can be spent on; the former Maintenance and Operations Levy has been renamed the Enrichment Levy, and it remains unclear how exactly that will affect the district. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will need to adopt rules for the Enrichment Levy.

Changes will also be made to levy auditing, expenditures and reporting. Starting in 2019, every district will need to get approval from OSPI for their levy expenditures, for example, and obtain re-approval if plans change during the life of the levy. Such approvals are not currently required for levies approved by voters.

Not all of the changes will result in losses for the district. One of the main goals for the budget was to reduce class sizes to 17 students per teacher for kindergarten through third grade. The state will fund the district for that ratio in the 2017-2018 school year regardless of how many teachers are actually staffed, which could result in a “one-time infusion of funds” from the state, but starting in 2018-2019, the state will only pay for the K-3 teachers that are there.

While this is a goal that district officials agree with, many schools in districts across the state will be trying to hire more K-3 teachers this year, so it may be difficult to meet that goal. During the 2016-2017 school year, the average classroom had between 19 and 22 students per teacher for grades K-3, or 17-21 for grades K-3 in high-poverty schools.

If the 17-to-1 ratio is not immediately met, the one-time infusion of funds from the state could be used to bring up the district’s fund balance, which Mhyre said could be helpful in the coming years as they figure out how this budget will work and what will be allowed.

In addition, if teachers for grades other than K-3 are hired with this money, support from the state is not guaranteed to continue. The dollars for this budget are specific to K-3 teachers.

During Tuesday’s meeting, school board members pushed for more teachers to be hired quickly, so class sizes can get as close as possible to the 17-to-1 to be funded by the state.

“I would want to be as close to that intent as possible,” Board Member Ann McMurray said.

Overall, district leaders believe the Edmonds School District should expect to see an overall increase in its total budget from the state. However, Superintendent Kris McDuffy said this budget does not “fully fund public education,” which is what was required by the McCleary decision.

“This falls far, far short,” she said. “As far as fully funding education, this falls far short.”

Meanwhile, Mhyre and other district leaders continue to work through the new state budget before the district proposes its own budget later this summer.

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