School district prepares to pass annual budget
August 17, 2010
By Laura Geggel
The Issaquah School District is one step away from approving its 2010-11 school year budget. If passed, the budget would absorb large state cuts, but make up for them temporarily by raising the levy lid.
The budget would also maintain last year’s class sizes, increase the district’s reserve fund and allow the district to continue to operate with a low overhead.
The Issaquah School Board heard the first of two readings of this year’s budget as district Chief of Finance and Operations Jake Kuper familiarized them with its ins and outs at the Aug. 11 board meeting.
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget at its Aug. 25 meeting.
Although the district has lost a large amount of state funding — $10.4 million since 2009 — the district’s financial department has found a way to work around the losses; not one teacher was laid off because of budget cuts, and the district has hired 77 new teachers, 47 of which are new due to enrollment or program increases.
The state cuts show no signs of stopping. In the 2010-11 budget, the district was forced to take a $3.1 million cut in state support, Kuper said.Those losses include about a $2 million cut from Initiative 728, a program that paid for more teachers to reduce class sizes, and about $250,000 the district received from the state’s remaining learning improvement day.
School board president Suzanne Weaver said the district was careful when implementing the cuts.
“We were very intentional where the money should go, according to our values and the needs of our students,” she said.
Yet, even as the state Legislature cut school funding, it gave school districts another way to collect more money. New legislation allowed school districts to increase their levy lids by 4 percent, permitting them to collect the full amount of levy money voted for by taxpayers.
In Issaquah, the district was able to increase the lid on its four-year maintenance and operations levy from 24.97 percent to 28.97 percent.
“Due to the change in state law, strategic planning and continued community support, we were able to provide an additional $4.3 million in local funding for the 2010-11 budget,” Kuper wrote in a statement to the board.
The extra levy money will help maintain current class sizes and service levels, he said. In 2009-10, class sizes increased — sizes that will remain the same this year.
Any remaining levy money will pay for science, technology, engineering and math initiatives in grades six through 12, as well as literacy support in elementary schools.
Other parts of the budget are changing, too. At the board’s direction, the district increased its reserve fund from $500,000 to $1 million, so it would be between 3 percent and 5 percent of the general fund.
The board determined that given the uncertain level of state funding during the next few years, it was important to increase emergency reserves, Kuper said.
He also commended the district for its small overhead costs. In 2008-09, the average overhead for King County school districts was about 12.5 percent. Issaquah’s is about 9.5 percent for the 2010-11 school year.
“We continue to be the most efficient district for overhead in King County,” said Kuper, adding that if the district operated at about 12.5 percent overhead, it would have about $4.7 million less.
The origin of school funding
The district receives money from three primary sources: The state provides about 62 percent of the budget, local taxpayers pay about 33 percent through the maintenance and operations levy, and the federal government supplies about 5 percent.
As far as state money goes, there are 295 school districts in Washington, and Issaquah ranks 282nd in per-pupil funding. The average district receives $9,928 per student, while Issaquah receives only $8,834, Kuper said.
“This puts Issaquah School District at a revenue disadvantage of $17.2 million per year, when compared to the state average per student rate,” Kuper wrote in his statement to the board.
About 80 percent of the money the district has pays for about 1,800 full- and part-time employees who work in the district, Kuper said. This year, certified and classified staff are receiving about a 5 percent increase and a 3.5 percent increase, respectively, in salary and benefits, he said.
Kuper illustrated how the district spends the rest of its money by talking about the district’s different cost centers, including basic education, which ensures students have access to a library, counseling and nursing services, technology resources, extra-curricular activities, and appropriate curriculum and class sizes.
Other cost centers include support services, such as grounds maintenance and data processing, Echo Glen Children’s Center, food services, and special education and transportation, both of which are under funded by the state government.
The district’s general operations fund is the largest fund, but Kuper also updated the school board about the debt service fund, the Associated Student Body fund and the transportation vehicle fund, paid for by a levy that will allow the district to purchase 11 new buses this year.
“We thank the community for their support on the levies,” Kuper said. “It made a lot of things possible.”
Issaquah School District budget adoption
7 p.m. Aug. 25
District Administration Building
565 N.W. Holly St.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.