Issaquah School District officials propose ‘flat’ $167.5 million budget

August 14, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

“Flat” was the key word Aug. 8, when the Issaquah School District rolled out its draft budget for the 2012-13 academic year to the tune of $167.46 million.

But it wasn’t necessarily a bad word. In this case, flat means not only no major leaps in spending or state funding but also no major program reductions or changes in class-size allocation.

“Who thought flat state funding would be an exciting thing?” asked Jake Kuper, chief of finance and operations for the district.

When the recession hit in 2008, state funding for schools began a steep downward spiral that totaled a nearly $16 million loss for the district. During the 2008-09 school year the state paid 68 percent of the district’s bills. Since then, that rate has dropped to 60.8 percent and there, Kuper said, is where it remains stagnant.

“Flat state funding is a great thing,” he added.

Get involved

See a more detailed version of the draft budget and submit comments at www.issaquah.wednet.edu/district/departments/finances/budget/Default.aspx.

The proposed spending plan of $167.46 million for the nearly 17,500-student school district comes from the expectation that Issaquah will bring in revenue of $164.48 million and pull about $3 million from the general fund’s reserves.

That isn’t much different from last year’s budget, when the district spent about $161.5 million from the general fund, which also included a $3 million bump from the general fund’s carry-over money.

The major budget drivers this year are that state input isn’t expected to go up or down, and the expected enrollment of 180-185 new students. With a 3.6 percent spending increase, the district’s expenditures are growing at a slightly higher rate than the student body at 2.5 percent.

Kuper credits the difference to the rising cost of commodities, such as diesel and food. Every time drivers see a 10-cent increase at the gas pump, he explained, it adds about another $20,000 to the district’s bill.

The school board held a public hearing on the proposed budget Aug. 8, but no members of the public spoke. It is scheduled for adoption during the board’s Aug. 22 meeting.

The proposed budget is broken into seven areas, the largest of which is classroom services at about $102.95 million. That 61.5 percent of the annual budget provides the bread and butter for the district’s 15 elementary schools, five middle schools and three high schools. It pays for things like teachers, libraries, school nurses and most day-to-day expenses.

Another nearly $22 million is earmarked for support services, like maintaining the grounds and paying the water and heating bills. But the bulk of the support services money funds the district’s administration.

At 9.22 percent of the total budget, Issaquah spends slightly less on overhead than the average King County district, which was 11.76 percent in 2011-2012.

“When people talk about ‘We could cut more out of the school budget — just cut the central office’ … we have already cut everything there is to cut,” school board member Brian Deagle said. “There is no more room for cuts that will not affect the classroom.”

Separate from the general fund, the district also plans to spend $1.6 million on 13 or 14 new school buses.

So where does all the money come from? The state chips in 61 percent at a little more than $100 million. Another $36 million is set to come from Maintenance and Operations levy taxes, and $21.55 million will be collected through fees, gifts and tuition for things like all-day kindergarten. The federal government is expected to kick in $6.3 million.

“In theory, levy dollars are for extras above and beyond what we would consider basic education,” school board member Suzanne Weaver said, “and that is not how it plays out.”

To help make up for its shrinking contribution in the past few years, the state Legislature authorized school districts to increase their levy by 4 percent. According to Kuper, that has helped Issaquah offset nearly half of the state’s reductions.

However, the 4-percent increase is scheduled to end in 2017, meaning an estimated $7 million less for the district annually.

“A significant amount of money will drop off our collection authority,” Kuper said. “Time flies and 2017 will come before you know it. It’s something to keep your eye on.”

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