Staff photo/Hayley Day San Juan Island School District Board Chairman Ralph Hahn discusses the budget at the July 25 meeting.

Local school budget passed, but state funds still unclear

After months of waiting, the San Juan Island School District Board passed the 2017-18 school year budget on Tuesday, July 25, with no public comment.

The board had delayed adopting the local budget until state funds were allocated. However, the exact amount the district will receive is still unclear.

Even though the district will receive more funds in some areas, so far, it does not compensate for funds lost in the local levy cap under the state budget. The state budget was adopted, just under deadline, in June.

Starting in 2019, the district will raise roughly $200,000 less than the last local levy, said Domenech.

The district depends on the local levy to fund staff and special education, he added.

Next school year, SJISD will receive more special education funds, but it’s $400,000 less than what staff expects to spend for that department.

The district will also receive $240,000 to staff smaller class sizes for grades K-3, but this is in addition to the levy funds the district has already received for next year.

Thanks to this additional money from the state, next year the district will hire a part-time special education teacher at the elementary school and full-time special education teacher at the middle school. Staff is the largest expenditure in the district, said Domenech. Last year, about 80 percent of funds was spent on staff, which resulted in a $430,000 loss by the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Next year, the district expects to lose $162,000, after starting with roughly $600,000. This does not include 2018 levy funds.

“We can’t sustain overspending,” said Domenech.

The levy caps were designed to prevent excess in staff spending, according to a presentation by Domenech. Wealthy districts’ abilities to spend more on staffing than low-income districts, creates inequality among the state’s public schools. This is prohibited under a 2012 state Supreme Court order and reinforced by the budget.

The state budget will add billions in public education to create equitable spending across state districts, according to a statement by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Next year, the district will also lose some state and federal funding, due to the decline in enrollment. With 25 less students, the district will receive $175,000 fewer funds, said Domenech. This forced staff to cut one full-time, sixth-grade teacher, a part-time woodshop instructor in the high school, and a part-time, fifth-grade math teacher.

SJISD Board Chairman Ralph Hahn questioned if the district could sustain its current operations if the decline in students and funding, continued.

“Can we keep the organization and methodology we’re currently using with 300 fewer students?” he asked, estimating if every grade lost about 25 students in the upcoming years.

The board also unanimously passed to implement two meetings a month, starting next year. Regular board meetings will cover new business and include voting on resolutions, like they do now. The other meetings, called “workshops,” will be informal, said Hahn, where topics, like the budget, will be discussed and attendees can ask the board questions.

About eight members of the public attended the meeting, consisting mostly of district staff and candidates vying for two open board positions. The positions will be voted on, this November.

To review the budget, visit www.sjisd.edu and select “BoardDocs School Board agenda access.”