As Camas School District (CSD) grapples with an $8.2 million budget deficit, the School Board listened to a budget committee update Monday night that outlined nine major considerations to resolve the challenging financial issues.
Mike True and Mary Tipton, who volunteer on Superintendent Jeff Snell’s special budget committee, explained in detail the methodologies used to analyze the thorny issues in front of them, as well as their commitment to finding the best possible solutions.
The special budget committee was formed to take a deep dive into how CSD spends its money, find ways to reduce expenses, and ultimately provide Snell with overall considerations on how to balance the budget, which was thrown into chaos following “McCleary” legislation, legislative fixes, loss of voter-approved levies, and collective bargaining agreements. Approximately 225 of the state’s 295 districts are dealing with similar budget deficits.
School board member Connie Hennessey said that although the process is painful, she also sees this as an opportunity to shine light on inefficiencies throughout CSD. Seventeen community members, from various and diverse backgrounds, are on the committee who meet regularly to find solutions. The urgency of their work is in part because the current bargaining agreement stipulates certificated staff must receive layoff notices by May 15.
“We’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances and I appreciate everyone on this committee,” said True. “This isn’t easy work, but we don’t want to bury our heads, this is our community, and we want you to know our desire is to preserve as many programs as possible — we don’t want to cut programs entirely as they will be hard to bring back.”
He also emphasized this is a year-to-year approach, as CSD doesn’t know how future legislation could change the funding model.
True addressed the first four points, which are as follows:
1) Use of Fund Balance:
a. Using fund balance allows CSD to address the budget gap over two years.
b. Access fund balance in year 1 (2019-20) at a reasonable level, but could potentially lead to additional reductions in 2020-21.
c. The committee believes it’s important to maintain the fund balance at 5 percent of the annual operating budget. This allows for emergencies and 2-4 weeks of continued operations in the event the state doesn’t provide funding in a timely manner.
d. Future justified uses of fund balance may include preservation of programs, additional of staff to reduce overload, where justified and appropriate, and short-term opportunities where there is a known strategy to refund.
e. Future uses reducing unrestricted fund balance levels below 5 percent are not recommended for addition of programs, addition of staff, or compensation increases for existing positions.
2) Advocate for legislation that provides sustainable district funding.
3) Work towards preservation of CSD program opportunities for students during the funding model transition, which includes the following:
a. Avoid cutting entire programs.
b. Establish program evaluation metrics for future analysis of impact and efficiency.
c. Pursue opportunities to enhance program support funding from PTA/CEF/Boosters and other supporting organizations and initiatives.
4) Preserve student access to counselors.
Tipton addresses points five to nine, which are as follows:
5) Close staffing alignment to the state prototypical school funding model while preserving the goals of CSD. Reduce teacher on special assignment staff to a minimum level that keeps support for target district initiatives.
a. Protect class size — contractual class size target
Middle School: 30
High School: 31
b. Manage staffing to avoid increased overload, as defined in collective bargaining agreement.
6) Maintain appropriate security levels and protocols.
7) Reduce non-staff expenses: 7.5 percent reduction goal.
8) When pursuing capital projects, continue to consider the impact on operating expenditures.
9) As future funding becomes available, consider the following:
a. Prioritize service levels to our students, community and staff.
b. Prioritize program and extracurricular funding for students.
c. Growth of fund balance to appropriate levels.
“This is our report about our guidance to Jeff, who will be finalizing his recommendations to the board in the next few weeks,” said Tipton. “We’ve had a board member at every budget committee meeting, for which we are grateful.”
True said the committee members all come from different places and levels of understanding.
“I’ll go on the record and say that Mary and I have made a three-year commitment to be a part of this,” said True. “As processes move on, we’ll continue to look at fund balance and uses within that fund balance. It’s not an enjoyable process. There will be reductions.”
School Board member, Corey McEnry, said: “We’re thankful for so many stakeholders as we wrap our heads around this.”
Budget committee members present in the meeting acknowledged the challenges they face with making the considerations. “It’s really hard to understand,” said one member.
The School Board voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 12-03, which is a Modified Educational Program that authorizes Snell to move forward with a budget model.
Snell said he will continue to work with legislators advocating for better funding, and that CDS staff will work through the budget committee’s considerations to draft staffing models for the upcoming school year.