Budgets on the level for new school year

Both districts will add to kindergarten programs, curriculum at all grade levels

For the first time in several years, school district budgets are looking up in both Camas and Washougal.

The Camas School Board adopted its budget last week, while Washougal is set to adopt its on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

The biggest change at both districts is the expansion of kindergarten instruction.

“(The budget) was less contentious (this year) because we were not forced to cut more programs due to state reductions,” said Doug Quinn, Camas School Board member. “Prior state budgets understandably reduced funding to K-12 education due to the dire economic conditions we were experiencing. We were forced to find a balance, giving on some things that hurt but continuing on the things that we cared most about.”

Quinn, who served as board president during some of the most contentious times, added that those leaner budget years forced the district to take a closer look at the values and benefits of various programs.

“It sounds odd to say, but it was healthy for our district to suffer those earlier decisions,” he said.The $59.7 million general fund is based on enrollment growth of approximately 1.2 percent. Last year’s actual enrollment was 5,922 FTE, and 2013-14 is projected at 6,115 FTE.

Last year’s general fund was $54.1 million.

“There are many changes taking place in the elementary schools due to the new boundaries, in addition to the unknown of kindergarten enrollment,” Business Services Director Donna Gregg said in a memo to the School Board.

One of the biggest changes is the expansion of the district’s supplemental kindergarten program, LEAP, with the addition of two teachers, for a total of three, who will serve students at all six elementary schools. LEAP focuses on kindergartners most in need of additional instruction by providing them with a full day of kindergarten.

“There is clear improvement in their progress, and many of the students are able to reach grade level competency within the program,” Quinn said. “It’s a great program with proven results. I believe it’s one of the best investments we can make as a district. From a purely fiscal view, making an investment in a child’s early learning minimizes future remedial interventions required for them to reach graduation.”

Another big change is the opening of Woodburn Elementary School this fall, which resulted in additional staffing needs.

Staffing changes include:

•$1.3 million for 15.4 full-time, teaching positions (including two additional LEAP positions).

• $700,000 for additional classified staff members, mostly at Woodburn Elementary.

Fund increases from the state include, but are not limited to:

• Adding $400,000 of certificated and classified salary reductions back to the budget.

• Adding $175,000 in Learning Assistance Program funding for kindergarten through third-grade reading.

• An increase of $1 million to materials, supplies and operating costs.

• Transportation fund increases of $297,000.

The district will end the school year with an ending fund balance of $5.38 million, or nine percent of the starting general fund. Of that, approximately 3.9 percent will be spent on staffing and other reserved costs such as professional development, facility maintenance projects and curriculum adoptions, while 5.1 percent will be kept as an unreserved fund balance.

“Our budget process was open and transparent,” Quinn said. “That’s key when we’re dealing with public funds. I feel like we made time to discuss programs and weigh the costs against benefits to students. We (the board) all have different perspectives but thankfully we are aiming at the same goals.”

In Washougal, business manager Brian Wallace describes the proposed $30.14 million general fund budget as reflective of School Board priorities. Last year’s budget was $28.8 million. The proposed spending plan is based on an estimated enrollment of 2,918 FTE, 48 more than budgeted enrollment for 2012-13.

“It is a fiscally responsible budget, and at the same time, increases resources that support technology integration, new curriculum, improved facilities, safety and staff development,” he said.

The biggest change in the Washougal School District this fall is the addition of full-day kindergarten at Hathaway Elementary School.

Superintendent Dawn Tarzian and Hathaway Principal Laura Bolt have said full-day kindergarten will help enhance student learning, which will pay dividends in future years.

Added Wallace, “All day K has many benefits. Students are more prepared for school, they do better with the transition to first grade, show significant gains in school socialization, are equipped with stronger learning skills, and have higher academic achievement in future grades.”

Like Camas, other funding gains from the state include restoration of statewide certificated and classified salary reductions, LAP funding, and increases to transportation funding, and the per pupil rate for materials, supplies and operating costs.

Approximately $1.8 million will be dedicated to the minimum fund reserve, as per district policy.

“A minimum fund reserve policy is very important,” Wallace said. “Cash flow for Washington school districts is challenging.”

He added that while monthly costs are fairly consistent, revenue is not.

“It is important that you have adequate cash reserves to make payroll during your low revenue months,” Wallace said. “Many districts in Washington state with low reserves have to borrow money to make payroll at certain times of the year.”