The Washougal School District (WSD) administrative office was virtually empty and relatively quiet when the WSD board of directors voted to adopt the district’s 2019-20 budget on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
The scene marked a stark contrast from last year’s budget hearing, which attracted scores of district employees frustrated by a labor dispute that resulted in a teacher strike and delay of the school year.
WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said the silence spoke to the progress made since then.
“The fact that there wasn’t a lot of attention tonight, I think it says that we’ve been really transparent and good communicators about where we stand and what our challenges are and how we’re going to overcome those,” said Templeton, “and I feel good about that.”
WSD’s $45.8 million 2019-20 budget is the culmination of a months-long process to overcome challenges presented by the “McCleary Fix,” a legislative decision that altered the way K-12 funding is handled in Washington State.
WSD, which was facing a deficit of $1.7 million for the 2019-20 school year, balanced its budget by increasing its local levy, using reserves and “finding efficiencies,” according to Templeton.
The district eliminated an administrative position and a central office position, and reduced leadership stipends, overtime and building budgets.
“In reference to budget preparation, this has probably been the most challenging 12 months of my entire career,” Templeton said. “However, because I had a great team, and they’re super hard workers, and they helped me make sure I was aware of all the nuances of the budgeting process, we got through that, and we’re coming out the other side so much more knowledgeable about how budgets work and how important they are when you think about driving student achievement.”
Earlier this year, WSD received some help from the Washington Legislature, which raised the cap on local school levies to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value (APV) from the lawmakers’ previous $1.50 per $1,000 per APV cap. WSD administrators plan to increase the district’s 2020 educational programs and operations levy by 48 cents to $1.98 per $1,000 APV.
The district will use more than $800,000 of its reserve money for the 2019-20 school year.
“All of us together, we’ve done our job, which is to stick together and figure out how to move forward,” Templeton said. “When you have a challenge, you adjust and adapt. I think we’ve done a darn good job of adapting.”
Board president Cory Chase said that “the budget review and adoption process is one of the most important jobs of the school board.”
“Our current budget reflects our commitment to our students, community and excellent staff to maintain the highest levels of service,” Chase said. “We have a responsibility to continue to review processes, programs and policies to make sure we are making the most efficient use of our funds. This budget is the result of a lot of hard work by the entire Washougal School District team. Washougal is on an upward trajectory, and this budget allows us to continue to move Washougal forward to be one of the top performing districts in the state.”
WSD business manager Kris Grindy told board members that she’s “proud of the work that we’ve put into this budget.”
“It’s an example of our work community coming together to strategically share the sacrifice and focus our resources to become the top performing school districts in the state,” she said. “Collectively we will cope with the changing funding model, and we will find ways to overcome the resource challenges that we’re all facing.”
Grants provide opportunities
Templeton wants district employees to look for grant opportunities to fund activities or programs that otherwise would’ve been provided for in the district’s budget.
Chrissy Moses, a media librarian at Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School and Canyon Creek Middle School, recently applied for and received a grant through the Washington State Library.
The grant will provide Canyon Creek with 28 large-print books, worth about $450, according to Moses.
“I don’t know what my budget is for this year yet, but right now I know I have 28 books that I didn’t have before,” she said. “Larger print can help with letter recognition and decrease distraction to help readers who have trouble seeing focus on standard print. But even though large print books are supposed to benefit primarily struggling readers, they can benefit everybody.”
During the 2018-19 school year, Moses applied for and received a professional development grant from the Washington State Library and a matching grant for the purchase of interactive eBooks from Capstone, a publisher of children’s media.
“When I was going through my library media courses and work classes, I always heard from teachers and students that budgets are not going to cover everything for libraries,” Moses said. “I have to be proactive to look for other ways to add to the collection and provide services for students.”
Moses said she discovers grant opportunities organizational newsletters and Facebook posts from fellow school librarians.
“I will definitely look for more grants in the future,” she said. “I would encourage fellow librarians and teachers to apply for grants as well. If I see grants that they’d be interested in, I’ll pass along the information.”
Templeton said the district will look to local organizations such as the Washougal Schools Foundation, Camas-Washougal Community Chest and Rotary Club of Camas-Washougal as well as state and federal programs and private organizations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for grants.
“There’s money out there. That’s the good thing,” Templeton said. “But we’re also authentically partnering with our community and giving them the chance to be right alongside us as we educate our kids. We’ll spend this year asking ourselves, ‘What else is out there that we haven’t accessed?'”