District’s $34.3 million budget returns some teachers

Smaller class sizes for grades 1-3 mandated
By Brian Soergel | Sep 06, 2019

With school beginning this week in the Edmonds School District, administrators are hoping a new year brings stability to the end of a tumultuous three-month period that saw a $17.7 million deficit leading to teacher and staff cuts.

The district’s board of directors approved a $343 million budget last month for the 2019-20 school year that included dipping into reserves ($1.2 million), cutting programs ($3.3 million), and announcing some layoffs.

"After using reserves to balance the budget for several years, the ending fund balance in the 2019-20 budget has been stabilized at 2017-18 levels,” said Lydia Sellie, the district’s executive director of business and finance.

Sellie added that the state Legislature mandated smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade for the new year. That means Edmonds spent $1.25 million to hire 10 new elementary teachers.

There will be an average of two to three more students in classes in grades four through 12.

It was on May 15 that the school board voted to give pink slips to 25.2 certificated full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers at a packed meeting of parents, teachers, and students who spoke out against the cuts.

School Board President Diana White – running for a position on the Edmonds City Council – voted for the cuts, as did board members Gary Noble and Ann McMurray. Deborah Kilgore and Carin Chase opposed the cuts.

The actual number of notices settled on 19.9 FTE, which affected 33 teachers. Also, the district reduced eight FTE certificated elementary assistant principals.

“We are pleased to be making progress to recall our employees back,” said Superintendent Kris McDuffy in a recent note to the community. “Due to certificated retirements and resignations, we were able to recall many staff who were laid off into vacated positions.

“So far we have recalled 14 teachers, which represent 11.5 FTE who initially received layoff notices. Some of the laid off staff have taken new positions in other school districts. That leaves 6.2 FTE we still hope to recall.”

McDuffy, who has announced that she will retire after this school year, said the district is also mindful of paraeducators who received layoff notices.

“For those paraeducators who were laid off but wanted to continue working for the district,” she said, “positions were found for each of them.”

The deficit

How did the district wind up with the deficit in the first place?

It was in 2017 that the state Legislature increased the statewide property tax to boost the amount of money districts received. But legislators also imposed a lower limit on how much districts could collect from local property tax levies.

The district said it lost $20 million of voter-approved tax receipts in 2018, and dipped into its reserves to offset the loss.

Although legislators hiked property taxes to increase the flow of money to education, they set a lower limit to how much school districts could collect from levies.

This year, typical Edmonds homeowners saw their property taxes decline about $155 in 2019, mostly due to changes in education levies and the Edmonds City Council voting not to raise property taxes.

According to City of Edmonds Finance Director Scott James, the primary reason for the lower property tax bills was due to legislators in Olympia passing two laws related to school property tax levies.

The first passed partly in response to the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that ruled the state was not meeting its constitutional requirement to fully fund basic education, which restricts the Edmonds School District's tax levy rate to the lesser $1.50 levy, or $2,500 per student.

The second had the effect of reducing the Snohomish County state school levy rate by 28 cents.

Of the recent $17.7 million shortfall, $7.5 million (43%) was attributed to the negotiated contract increases to staff salaries and benefits payable this school year. The district employs over 3,600 certificated and classified staff, with 13 different union bargaining groups.

About 88% of the district’s budget goes to pay salaries and benefits.

It was last August that the Edmonds Education Association union and the Edmonds School District reached a tentative deal on a new teachers’ salary contract. It was ratified unanimously during the union’s annual membership meeting ahead of the first day of school.

Starting pay for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience was put at $62,688. Top pay for teachers with a master’s degree and at least 14 years of experience and 90 additional credits was capped at $114,272.

The new salary schedule provided an average 18.3 percent increase for teachers, librarians, counselors, psychologists, nurses, speech-language pathologists, occupation/physical therapists, and other certificated staff.

Compounding the deficit, according to district President White, was the reductions to local levy collections allowable ($6.2 million), the increased cost to consolidate state employee benefits ($1.5 million), and reduction in funding for K-3 ($1.25 million).

The teacher raises are only a fraction of the equation, she said, and not the only reason for the shortfall.

At the same time, McDuffy said there were multiple factors contributing to the budget shortfall, including “a basic education funding model that does not cover the additional staff and other program costs that are funded by the levy or other state and federal programs,” as well as “a salary allocation model that no longer takes into consideration the education and experience levels of staff and provides funding at one average rate.”

Andi Nofziger-Meadows, Edmonds Education Association president, said the $17 million deficit was somewhat inflated. She mentioned seven different models the district can look at for predicting enrollment, which drive the main course of revenue.

The one the district chose, she said, under-represented the number of students, which is responsible for part of the deficit and decision to reduce or eliminate positions.

What’s next?

The Edmonds School District is looking to put both a replacement technology levy and construction bond on the ballot in 2020.

 

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