There's never a time when we wouldn't rather be talking about learning instead of money. We're in the learning business. We're in the business of educating kids and preparing them for their future, full stop. But in order to focus on that teaching and learning, we also have to contend with the fact that it costs money – a fair bit of it – to do so.
How much do you know about school or District budgets? Likely not that much. There are a lot of numbers floating around covering a lot of categories and it can be overwhelming. In the following paragraphs we'll attempt to break down District funding and how it relates to all that learning. We'll also share information about our current financial picture and what it means to all of our stakeholders.
First off, it's important to note that every dollar the District receives goes toward something important – teacher salaries, cleaner classrooms, lunch programs, libraries, textbooks and other materials – all things that contribute to our key underlying mission of providing a world class education and learning experience for our kids.
Where does that money come from? While some of it comes from parcel tax revenue and a little more from revenue-generating projects within the District, mostly it comes from the state government – more than $94 million from around $114 million in total revenue this year. The good news this year is The Governor's January Proposed Budget for 2018/2019 calls for full funding of the Local Control Funding Formula (the new funding structure the state brought in during the 2013/14 school year that changed how local Districts are funded) and an additional $295 in per-pupil one time funding. This is a terrific development that provides more stability and more dollars.
But the news isn't all good. The key thing to know is our funding is in direct relation to the number of students we have in our schools. And it's no secret that we've seen the numbers of those students drop. A lot. More than 2000 over a six-year period. The bottom line is families with school-aged kids aren't moving into the community. With the cost of housing so high families are increasingly choosing to live in areas that are more affordable. And as Evergreen students grow up and move through their school years, ultimately moving on to high school and beyond, there aren't enough kids coming along behind them to keep the numbers up. It means we're getting a lot less money from the state, but costs keep going up. Operational costs are going up, special education costs are going up, required funding of pension plans keeps going way up – everything costs more, but we have to make do with less. When you calculate budget expectations over the next few years we are looking at around $109 million in revenue against $127 million in expenses by 2020/21. Now, those numbers could change somewhat but we know a few things – again, costs are going up and there aren't 2000 kids about to enter schools in the District.
There are a few things we can do, but most of them aren't easy. We are looking at ways to attract students to the District or prevent some from leaving for charter or private schools through programming or more targeted marketing. However, the number of students who leave for those options number only a couple of hundred and we have about as many kids transferring in from outside the District already. It's important work that needs doing but it's just the tip of the iceberg. We're also looking at ways to better realize revenues from some of our underused property. We've just struck a Joint Use Committee charged with looking at ways we can use empty classrooms or other property in the District to raise money through options ranging from community kitchens to childcare.
But even if we find ways to raise more revenue, we're still looking at a sizable deficit and unfortunately that means looking for things we can cut. In October the Board used one-time funds and made a round of recommended cuts to things like professional development, travel and a senior administrator position that saw $660,484 in ongoing savings. We knew then there would be more needed and that in January the Board would need to take another look at ways to save. As noted above, we're now looking at an $18 million deficit and a $20.6 million shortfall to meet our 3% state-required reserve, and these realities need to be addressed. On January 25th the Board discussed the possibility of consolidating some schools and reviewed a larger number of potential cuts with a goal toward making around $7 million in on-going reductions. These could include:
- $1.5 million (approx.) in Supplemental spending (this would mean things like losing instructional coaches, site technology support, instructional assistants, and staff development)
- $1.5 million (approx.) in General Fund spending (this would means things like losing a middle school assistant principal, two principals as a result of consolidating two small schools under one principal and another being run by a member of cabinet, a social worker, two custodians, and other administrative positions)
- $3.8 million (approx.) in negotiated items
Proposing such reductions is the last thing we want to have to do but we also know we need to find savings somewhere. The goal is always to find ways to save money while causing the least amount of impact in the classroom. At the beginning of this article we mentioned that we were in the learning business. That hasn't changed a bit. The kids are still our top priority and when looking at changes that need to be made, we're looking for those things that will be least likely to touch their learning experience. We deliver a top quality education – one we'd happily compare to any others on offer and know we'd come out strong – and that's a commitment that remains rock solid. Even as we streamline, there will still be no better place to learn than Evergreen.
The months and years ahead won't always be easy ones. The proposed cuts are tough. But with some of these proposed cuts and revenue generating opportunities we're hopeful we can finally restore some stability to what sometimes feels like an overwhelming cycle. During that time we'll keep things clear and transparent. We'll make sure you're in the loop and that there are no surprises. We'll answer your questions and share what we know when we know it. And through it all we'll come out stronger and still be able to offer the best educational experience around.