Camas schools still $4 million short

School board to discuss budget deficit, local levy rates at workshop on July 22

The Camas School District Board of Directors will meet next week to discuss the budget, a looming deficit and local tax levy rates at a workshop scheduled for Monday, July 22.

Jasen McEathron, the district’s director of business services, talked about the district’s current budget outlook — including an expected deficit of nearly $4 million despite making cuts recommended by the budget committee — at a June 24 board meeting.

Although the school district’s budget includes several funds, including capital projects, debt service and transportation/vehicle funds, McEathron said the general fund is where the expected deficit will hit.

“We can’t move any of these funds to the general fund,” McEathron said, pointing to the list of “other” funds. “We don’t stop building buildings because there is a deficit in the general fund. We keep buying buses, students keep having (events funded by the student body fund).”

McEathron said the district’s general fund forecast shows expenditures will overshadow revenues by about $4 million.

The preliminary budget posted July 8 to the district’s website shows revenues of $97.6 million with expenditures of $101.4 million for a shortfall of $3.8 million in the general fund.

“The deadline to cut more staff is gone,” McEathron said. “We have made and will continue to make efforts to save costs throughout the year.”

The budget forecast includes recommendations from a budget committee formed in January to help the district cope with what had been a $8.2 million deficit in its 2019-20 general fund.

In April, Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell provided the school board with an analysis of the committee’s budget reduction recommendations.

The committee, which met twice a month from January through March, included 17 representatives from diverse groups, including the district’s school board, several unions, the parent-teacher association, the Camas Boosters, the Camas Educational Foundation and a citizen advisory committee.

Their recommendations, presented to Snell on April 15, included staff cuts — specifically for 22 certificated teaching positions, one administrator, six classified instructional staff and six district office staff — as well as reductions in supplies, curriculum and extracurricular activities; and the use of $3.76 million from the reserve fund.

“It made sense to spread the reductions across the district to try to have student-to-staff ratios pretty consistent and to use the fund balance and spread it over two years so that if we do get more revenue from the legislative changes, we might (be able to) save some positions,” Mary Tipton, the committee’s co-chair, told the Post-Record in early May.

The district’s deficit is a result of the state’s “McCleary Fix” legislation meant to satisfy a state court ruling on adequately funding public K-12 education that increases the money districts receive from the state while limiting dollars provided by local levies.

Camas schools thrived under the previous state education model, which often relied on local levies to supplement the state’s education dollars. As the district’s reputation grew, more and more families moved to the Camas area specifically because of the quality of the schools, and those families often were willing to pay more in local levy taxes to supplement the state’s K-12 funding.

On June 24, McEathron discussed “next steps” in the budget process. The district posted the preliminary budget July 8, and school board members will refine the budget and discuss levy rates at the July 22 workshop. The Board is expected to approve a final 2019-20 budget in August.

Pointing to a chart that showed the district’s general fund revenues vs. expenditures from 2013 to 2019-20, McEathron said revenues have always kept up with expenditures — until now.

“(The) 2019-20 school year is an anomaly,” McEathron said. “We’re not used to having a deficit.”

The district will have to find new ways to succeed, Snell told the Post-Record.

“If we hadn’t shifted the model, we would be in a different situation today,” he said. “My hope is if we do this right, as we figure out the new system, we’ll be able to start enhancing in similar ways over time. But in the first couple years it’s hard to understand where those opportunities might be.”