The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
the Times 

Grim budget outlook forces staff cut considerations

Projections show reserve being depleted in four years under current funding model


April 11, 2019

WAITSBURG—Three Waitsburg teachers will be retiring with the end of the 2018-19 school year but the District is currently only advertising for two teaching position openings. The unpopular option of not filling the spot vacated by Family and Consumer Science Teacher Nancy Bickelhaupt is being considered to compensate for the potential impacts of McCleary decision funding changes.

At the March 21 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jon Mishra presented the Waitsburg School Board with potential scenarios resulting from the enactment of the McCleary Decision which was intended to “fully fund” education.

“There is not enough overall revenue to fund all priorities. The state has got to do something to fix it. And maybe they will, but right now, they’re not,” Mishra said.

He shared some of the challenges that Waitsburg, like many smaller districts, must consider when building next year’s budget, which must be approved in July.

Waitsburg faces a steep levy cliff. The new levy cap on property tax of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value being a drastic drop from the $3.55 per $1,000 currently collected. Even with the state/county tax increase of $.90 per $1,000, which brings collections to $2.40 per $1,000, there is still a shortage of $1.15 per $1,000.

Waitsburg has a high percentage of special needs students which have been funded by local tax dollars. These funds have not been replaced with state dollars.

The new funding model does not consider staff mix. Previously, the state paid districts for teacher salaries based on the mix of experience, not just one rate. With an experienced staff, this is a detriment for Waitsburg.

“We are not going to hire based on salary. We are going to hire the best person for the kids,” Mishra said.

Mishra said that districts pick up 50% of classified staff funding through levies and grants. With the levy dropping and grants uncertain, the district could be left with a shortage of approximately $200,000 in classified staff funding.

District administration is funded at 1.016 with actual administration of 2.0, leaving the district short approximately $100,000.

Districts are now required to pay into the School Employee Benefits Board (SEBB) program for any employee working 630 hours a year. That means the District must pay into the pool for any staff member that works 3.5 hours per day for 180 days, even if the employee opts out of the program. Mishra said the requirement also applies to coaches and will be implemented with substitutes on January 1, 2020.

Mishra said that the current reserve fund is $828,000. Expected funding shortages are estimated to cut into reserves by $280,000 this year and even more next year.

“I projected out to year four, but we didn’t make it that far,” said Mishra, pointing to a graph showing a negative $218,000 balance by 1920-21.

In a discussion of possible solutions, school board chair Ross Hamann described potential cuts as the “harsh realities of the post-McCleary world.”

“We have had to RIF (cut staff) in the past and that has been difficult. It’s been easier when we’ve been able to not fill a position after a retirement, rather than laying a person off. It’s easier on everyone, the staff and the district. We have notifications of three retirements, and I do believe we need to consider taking advantage of that situation,” Hamann said.

Retiring teachers include middle school science and math teacher Maddie Martin, high school math teacher Jim Leid and family and consumer science teacher Nancy Bickelhaupt. The board is considering not replacing Bickelhaupt’s positions because several of her classes are electives.

Bickelhaupt spoke strongly about the importance of a strong health program and instructing students in financial literacy and life management skills.

“This is a district that has prided itself on providing students what they need to be successful long beyond high school. I think that because we are so weak in health in other stages of the district, they really need a strong health program in high school. I feel the same with the financial literacy piece. That is the piece when students come back and say, ‘that has saved me. I’m so glad you taught us that . . . they may not be the most attractive electives, but they are so, so important,” Bickelhaupt said.

Several audience members spoke in agreement. High school Administrative Assistant Denise Winnett said that she had conducted a survey asking alumni what their current jobs were are and what classes they took at WHS that they felt were most important.

“It always came back to life management skills, personal choices, and accounting, which we no longer have any business classes. And then if you look at what they majority of graduates are now doing; they are those kinds of jobs. They are computer-oriented jobs or nursing jobs. I personally hate to see the CTE classes disappear any more than what we have,” she said.

“The only reason I know how to sew on a button or bake a loaf of bread is because of Nancy,” said board member Randy Hinchliffe.

Other budgeting options presented included:

Spend down the reserve – a finite fix since once reserves are spent, they are gone.

Reduce department allocations – allocate less for classroom needs, make strategic technology purchases

Delay preventative maintenance such as fertilizing, winterizing, painting, pressure washing, roof replacement

Delay curriculum/textbook adoptions

Reduce extra and co-curricular clubs, activities, sports and transportation

Reduce supplies and operating costs – use utilities sparingly, delay replacement of equipment

Reduction in force

Waitsburg is far from alone in struggling to address the looming budget shortfall. Dayton School District will hold a special board meeting on April 10 to address legislative news, financial projections and to review required Reduction in Force and layoff procedures. The Richland, Wash. school District is holding a series of community forums to address budget cuts and special education.

“It’s hard to have this discussion when the state said the revenue forecast is unexpectedly high,” Hamann said.

Waitsburg School District budgeting discussions will be ongoing. The next school board meeting is April 18 at 6 p.m. at the Waitsburg Elementary School library.


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