Education funding: FW schools brace for state budget impact

With Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) Superintendent Rob Neu set to give his final recommendation for a budget on May 28, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Sally McLean gave a quick review of the budget planning process to date.

At the May 14 school board meeting, McLean touched on the three budgets proposed by the state — by Gov. Jay Inslee, the House of Representatives and the Senate — and how the differing budgets may have an impact on the FWPS budget. She also discussed the various components that go into the lengthy process of preparing the district's budget.

"We have been spending more money than we've been receiving during this period of the Great Recession," McLean said.

Enrollment decline and federal sequestration

McLean reiterated that FWPS' enrollment has seen a steady decline over recent years. The fund balance issue, McLean said, mostly deals with the fact that the district has spent some of its "savings" in recent years, in order to avoid laying off employees and cutting programs.

"As we look forward at moving into 2013-14, I'll be looking at a recommendation to the superintendent... that includes a little less spending of fund balance," McLean noted.

McLean said the district is looking to combat federal sequestration by trying to ensure various programs carryover funds from year to year in the foreseeable future. Some things, like the early education Head Start program, the AmeriCorps program, or the Air Force JROTC program, don't allow for the carryover of funds.

"We'll be looking at program modifications/reductions beginning in 2014-15," McLean added.

All-day kindergarten and class sizes

McLean reviewed the various levels of funding that the three aforementioned state budgets are offering.

For each, the beginning of a "down payment" for the state's Supreme Court ruling to fully fund education were met in different ways.

One of the hot topics in recent years has been all-day kindergarten.

"Currently, 22 percent of the kindergarten students in the State of Washington are being served in (all-day) kindergarten programs," McLean said. "The governor's budget recommends taking that to 50.7 percent, the Senate recommends taking that to 30 percent, and the House recommends 37.6 percent. The only Federal Way School District school that will be captured in any one of those three is Valhalla Elementary. We're proceeding, even though we don't have a state budget, we're proceeding under the assumption that Valhalla will indeed receive state funding for all-day kindergarten next year."

Also addressed in the three budgets was a reduction of class sizes. Just like all-day kindergarten, the governor's budget was the most ambitious, as he proposed funding that would reduce class size to 1 teacher for every 20 students in the class. The House budget would lower the ration to 22.68 to 1, while the Senate's budget would keep that funding static, and the ratio at 24.1 to one.

Budget preview

Finally, McLean gave a "sneak preview" of Neu's expected May 28 budget recommendation. One issue that she had previously brought up was the restoration of statewide salary allocation reductions, which would allow the district to avoid furlough days.

McLean said that furlough days were off the table at this time because all three versions of the budget included the restoration of the salary allocation reductions.

A new wrinkle, McLean shared, was that the district's contribution to retirement funds will be increasing in the near future.

"All of the state budget scenarios increase the employer retirement contribution rates," McLean said. "We're looking to accommodate, in the budget next year, a $1.7 million expenditure for increased retirement contributions."

One last bit of the sneak preview McLean shared was the fact that school counselor/dean positions that were cut in recent years will be restored in the upcoming budget.

"We committed to restoring the four FTE's (full time equivalents) that impacted eight of our elementary schools," she noted.


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