Washougal School District deficit grows

District hopes to win back students, boost enrollment

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The Washougal School District’s (WSD) budget deficit is bigger than originally anticipated.

At the WSD board of directors’ June 25 meeting, superintendent Mary Templeton said that two recent developments combined to add about $1.2 million to the district’s deficit, which had originally been pegged at about $800,000.

“We kind of had a double-whammy that created some shifts in our budget, but we’re optimistic that our four-year plan will be just fine,” Templeton said.
Templeton said that the district will cover the deficit in preparation of the presentation of the first draft of the 2019-20 budget July 10.

“There are numerous plans for us moving forward,” she said. “What makes our plan doable is thanks to the good stewardship of the board, we have enough in reserves. It will be a combination (of factors). The board will be making some determinations.”

The district missed its projected enrollment count for the 2018-19 school year by 50 students, adding about $500,000 to the district’s deficit.

WSD reported an enrollment of 2,985.33 full-time equivalency (FTE) for 2018-19, down from 3,049.62 in 2017-18, marking the second consecutive year of decline.

“Enrollment is the sole driver for funding,” business services director Kris Grindy said. “(Our trends show) a deficit of enrollment, so we’re planning on conservative enrollment for the next school year. Fewer kids means fewer dollars to spend, so we’ll continue to make those adjustments.”

According to the district, students living within WSD boundaries attended schools in the Camas, Evergreen, Battle Ground and Vancouver school districts, Stevenson High School, and online and virtual academies during the 2018-19 school year. In addition, about 120 Washougal High School (WHS) students enrolled in the Running Start program at Clark College.

As a result, district staff members are talking about ways to “recruit” some of those students back to WSD.

“We are very keen on re-attracting or attracting our FTE to the district,” Templeton said. “We have quite a few students who live in the Washougal attendance area that are accessing different programs outside of Washougal. We would like to attract them back.”

Grindy said that district staff members are meeting with students who have requested a transfer or have chosen an educational option outside of WSD to gather information about what the district might be lacking or able to offer to students in the future.

The district is also promoting its increased Advanced Placement offerings and dual-credit programs that allow WHS students to earn college credits and participate in internships, and reinvesting in student safety and social and emotional support systems, Grindy said.

The district’s rising on-time graduation rate is a big selling point for the district, according to Templeton.

“As you see our on-time graduation rate, one of the key indicators for student success, rising dramatically, that catches people’s attention,” she said. “That happens because everything else is working. That’s why it’s critical for us that we’re pushing, and we might even be above, 90 percent.”

Templeton said that she anticipates the district’s enrollment will increase in the near future.

“I don’t think next year will be our pop-back year, but I think we’re going to start seeing some things, and it could be because of some of the new construction in three or four different places around town,” she said.

The district is also facing challenges from the School Employees Benefits Board (SEBB) Program, which will administer health insurance and other benefits to all employees in school districts and charter schools and union-represented employees of educational service districts in Washington beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

That will add about $600,000 to the district’s budget, Templeton said.

“Now our part-time employees are provided full health care benefits,” she said. “It’s a significant cost to the state of Washington, but there’s an unfunded cost to the district because if you have more teachers than the prototypical model, you have to pay for all of them – the cost of their salaries, the cost of their benefits. That’s why it’s super expensive.”