Schools wait on Legislature amid murky budget outlook

This year is no different than recent years when it comes to the 2013-14 budget planning for Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS), although state education funding and politics create a murky picture of what's ahead.

"Obviously, for those of us in the K-12 community, we believe that the Legislature's response to the McCleary decision should be a significant factor in their budget development," said Sally McLean, assistant superintendent of business services, at the school board's Feb. 26 meeting.

McLean was referencing last year's State Supreme Court decision on inadequate education funding. "The question right now, that we all have, is will it be?"

McLean noted that the state's Economic Forecast Council had predicted a "$2 billion-ish" budgetary shortfall, without addressing the McCleary decision.

"So the state, even though we continue to see some modest economic recovery signs, will still have a $2 billion gap predicted in the (2013-15) biennial budget without addressing McCleary," she said.

In addition, Washington voters passed Initiative 1185 this past November. The measure requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any potential revenue increases. For example, the ten-cent gas tax that has been proposed to potentially fund K-12 transportation would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate in order to pass, McLean noted.

"We all remember how hard it is to get a 60 percent supermajority for certain legislative actions. Getting a 66 and two-thirds vote is even more challenging," she added.

It appears that this point may be a moot issue, with the State Supreme Court's 6-3 decision on Feb. 28 that struck down the two-thirds provision.

Another factor in this year's round of budget planning, McLean said, is the fact the Legislature is on a "long" or 105-day session. Whether this will mean an emergency session is needed, as has been the case in recent years, is unknown at this time, she said.

Along with that, the in-house politics of the State Senate, in which two members of the Democratic party, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, have defected and sided with Republicans, has also added another layer of uncertainty to the whole process, she noted.

While the outlook is still murky, McLean did venture some predictions about the state budget.

"When I think about what I would expect to see on April 28, or potentially before," she said, referencing the last day of the current legislative session, "is I would expect out of those 180 educational bills, approximately 20 percent or so will pass. That's pretty standard, and that some of those will require new activities on the school district, or a change in our current activities, and probably most of those will come with insufficient or no funding to implement."

McLean said she expects the restoration of salary allocation reductions, which would be a positive in this case, because it would take furlough days off the table for the district when it comes to trimming the budget. Along with that, she said any other new funding would essentially be programmatic, meaning that it would be increased funding for specific programs.

"In the meantime, we're still planning," she said.


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