School district could face $2M-plus loss in state funding

Roughly $2 million, so far.

Roughly $2 million, so far.

That’s how much Northshore School District officials expect they could lose in state funding for the 2009-2010 school year.

According to district Director of Communications Susan Stoltzfus, in her latest budget proposal, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed slicing by 25 percent educational funding provided by state Initiative 728.

Washington voters passed I-728 in November 2000 with the goal of lowering class sizes. Stoltzfus said Northshore receives about $8.7 million in I-728 dollars. A 25-percent reduction would equal about a $2 million loss in revenue to the local schools.

“We’re a bit relieved,” Stoltzfus said. “A 25-percent cut is not as bad as we feared.”

But she also added some local officials still would be forced into some budget cuts if the 25-percent reduction becomes a reality.

Overall, based on various projections regarding everything from staffing to fuel costs, Stoltzfus said local leaders are anticipating a need to slice about $9 million from their spending over the next three years.

As for the immediate future, Olympia legislators have, of course, the final word on state spending. Lawmakers have until mid-March to pass out of their various committees any bills that might have financial impacts. Those impacts could be those proposed by Gregoire or they could result in less or deeper cuts.

The state is facing a well-publicized roughly $6 billion budget deficit.

According to Stoltzfus, I-728 dollars currently pay for about 30 local teachers, as well as funding various professional development programs. She added Northshore officials are just starting to take a look at what cuts eventually might have to be made.

“We’re trying to be creative, but it’s hard when you don’t control your revenues,” Stoltzfus said.

According to Stoltzfus, creating the district budget primarily is the task of Executive Director of Business Services Dick Anastasi. Anastasi has been out of town recently and could not be reached for comment.

On Jan. 15, district Superintendent Larry Francois will hold another of his “Brown Bag Briefings,” with the topic being how the district creates its annual spending plans.

Free and open to the public, the session is set for noon in the district board room, 3330 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell.

For her part, Stoltzfus reiterated the news from the governor’s office could have been worse.

“We’re not as worried as we once were,” she said, though noting the situation could change dramatically depending on legislative moves.

Judging from Stoltzfus’ comments, local officials may be worried the most by the possibility of state-mandated cost-of-living increases for teachers. Gregoire recommended no such increases, but again that doesn’t mean the legislature will follow suit.

According to Stoltzfus, local levy, not state, dollars pay for cost-of-living hikes, meaning the district could conceivably be forced into rearranging how it spends local dollars up to and including personnel cuts. The district is required to let teachers know by the end of March if they will have a job next year. In the meantime, officials have instituted a hiring freeze, leaving certain open positions unfilled.

Local teachers will receive 1-percent, across-the-board raises next year via their most recent contract. Other district employee unions are still in negotiations with the schools.

In other areas, Stoltzfus said the latest financial trends are a mix of good and bad. Fuel costs are down, but utility costs are growing. Officials are in the midst of surveying various employees in order to help set priorities should spending cuts become a reality. The group has held only one meeting so far, but the district also recently created a new financial advisory group consisting of community members, parents and local business leaders.

“There are ways to act now to avoid bigger cuts down the line,” Stoltzfus said.