Some programs restored in $183 million schools budget
September 3, 2013
By Neil Pierson
The Issaquah School Board unanimously passed the district’s 2013-14 budget Aug. 28, and the $183 million expense sheet includes the restoration of a few services and programs that had been cut in recent years.
Like the state’s other public school districts, Issaquah was forced to complete its budgeting process later than normal because of the state Legislature’s extended special session that ran until June 29.
Under state law, districts have until Aug. 31 to finalize a budget. That left people like Jake Kuper, Issaquah’s chief of finance and operations, with little time to iron out details.
Kuper said the extended legislative session meant Issaquah’s timeline for hiring new personnel was “very condensed.” There was also very little verbal input from the public on budgetary matters, and district officials had much less time to plan major program changes for the 2013-14 school year.
The Legislature’s mandate to fully fund basic education by 2018 took a small step forward this year. During an Aug. 14 public hearing on the budget, Kuper said while Issaquah’s increase of $3.1 million — 1 percent of its total revenue — is “meager growth, we’re heading in the right direction.”
The district lost nearly $16 million in state funding for the three fiscal years beginning in 2009-10, so there’s a substantial amount left to restore funding to pre-recession levels.
However, the $3.1 million increase will allow Issaquah to hire new personnel for each of its 24 schools.
All buildings will receive additional support for their health rooms. At the district’s three comprehensive high schools — Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline — mental health counseling services will be restored.
Starting in the spring semester, students at Issaquah and Skyline high schools will be able to enroll in a voluntary seventh-period class designed to provide academic performance.
Administrative positions will be added at the elementary- and middle-school levels as it attempts to implement a new statewide teacher evaluation system. Elementary schools will have additional secretaries, and some custodial and maintenance positions will be restored.
Issaquah could’ve chosen to fund additional teaching positions, but Kuper said officials felt new deans and health-room specialists were the way to go.
“We feel these investments will support our classroom teachers and their mission to provide high-quality instruction to our students,” Kuper said. “When our skilled professionals are allowed to focus on teaching, student achievement will improve.”
Superintendent Ron Thiele said this year’s budget reflects the district’s primary task — serving students.
“The lion’s share of our dollars help go to further the mission of the district,” Thiele said. “We take tremendous pride in being fiscally managed and being great stewards of taxpayer dollars.
District officials and board members continued to be frustrated by rules that have reduced Issaquah’s levy equalization dollars from the state. The district ranks 257th out of 295 districts in terms of per-pupil funding.
Additionally, the district can’t collect more voter-approved funds “due to an antiquated funding system that grandfathers local levy collections based on rates from the 1970s,” Kuper said. The district’s demographics also prevent it from collecting much in federal aid, he said.
The district plans end the 2013-14 year with a $17 million reserve and would continue meeting the school’s board mandate for having at least 3 percent of total expenses in unreserved savings. Much of the district’s savings are allocated to things like unfunded pension liabilities, unanticipated curriculum costs and emergencies.
Issaquah is projecting an enrollment growth of 260 students in the coming year — putting its total above 17,600 — and was within 50 of that mark when counts were taken last week, which Thiele termed a good projection.
“It’s a bit of a science, a bit of an art that goes into that,” he said.