Spokane Public Schools approves budget priorities as funding from Legislature remains up in the air

April 11, 2019

Facing the possibility of staff cutbacks this fall, the Spokane Public Schools board of directors tried to reaffirm Wednesday night that next year’s budget will prioritize basic education.

By a unanimous vote and with little comment, the board approved preliminary budget priorities that aim to “protect basic needs for all students, maintain essential support services and meet legal compliance and educational standards.”

Specifically, the district will aim to:

Explore “spending adjustments away from the classroom,” while taking a hard look at expenses at the central office and support staff, and identify “operational inefficiencies.”

Focus on meeting state requirements for lower class sizes and staff-to-student ratios at the K-3 level, possibly at the expense of those numbers for grades 4-12.

Attempt to ensure that the district’s unrestricted fund balance is sufficient to cover emergencies such as drops in enrollment and legislative mandates.

The vote was preceded by a presentation from Linda McDermott, the district’s chief financial officer. It included a summary of revenues and expenditures covering the current school year, which projects the district will finish the current year with a budget deficit of about $8.7 million.

However, that’s considered good news. When the school year began, the district had forecast a deficit of $12.6 million following approval of pay raises for teachers and other personnel.

For that, McDermott’s report credited “additional revenue from enrollment and higher transportation allocations from the state,” along with spending controls and careful review of attrition and position replacements.

The report also forecasts an unrestricted fund balance of $23.2 million when the next school year begins.

However, that projection is subject to change depending on how much relief, if any, will come from the Legislature.

“We are adjusting to a new state funding model, which has really changed the budget landscape,” McDermott said.

Like many districts in the state, Spokane is facing severe reductions in revenue following the approval of a new funding model and levy restrictions adopted by the Legislature.

In Spokane’s case, that shortfall totals $43 million over two years.

Spokane’s deficit and those of other districts are attributable largely to the complexities of the state Supreme Court’s landmark McCleary decision, which included a property tax cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.