The Camas School Board this week approved a $132 million 2021-22 budget that includes using $6.5 million out of fund balances to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, decreased student enrollment and COVID-19 relief funds that were disproportionately low compared to similarly sized school districts in Washington.
“The 2020-21 fiscal year was perhaps the most uncertain in the history of K-12 education,” Jasen McEathron, the district’s director of business services, told the Camas School Board on Monday, Aug. 23. “The COVID-driven changes in policy and educational practices made 2020-21 extremely difficult to forecast.”
The school district also has had “unprecedented enrollment volatility” since the start of the pandemic in 2020, McEathron added.
“We experienced a 6- to 7-percent enrollment loss this past year,” McEathron said.
The 2021-22 school district budget is based on an assumption that the district will recover roughly half of that lost enrollment.
“We felt as though that was a conservative approach to take,” McEathron said, adding that the district’s enrollment losses “were consistent” with other districts in the region and throughout Washington state.
“Through the work of the budget committee, we decided on a projected 2021-22 enrollment of 7,018 students … “This represents a net gain of 3 percent over our current enrollment,” McEathron said, but is still below the district’s pre-pandemic enrollment levels.
“Given the high level of new development in our community and the opportunity to welcome back students to full-time, in-person instruction, we believe the 3 percent increase in enrollment is a reasonable budget parameter. However, from a service standpoint, we will be striving to safely welcome back all students in the community and hope to exceed our budgeted enrollment.”
A four-year projection shows Camas school officials also believe enrollment rates will start to rebound, but may level off over the next four years.
“In this model we’ve put enrollment gains where we were pre-COVID,” but then the trend starts to level off due to “declining birth rates,” McEathron said. “We know that COVID has further declined those (birth) rates … looking ahead, I think we’ll start to see that impact not just here but in the state, given that birth rates are down.”
The school district plans to return to a pre-pandemic learning schedule this fall, with five full days of in-person instruction each week and a fully remote, five-day-a-week Camas Connect Academy option for families who do not want to return to in-person classes.
The 2021-22 school district budget includes $114.4 million in general fund expenditures, which includes funding for 483.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) certificated staff (teachers, principals, central office administrators) and 274.5 FTE classified staff.
The budget also includes expenditures of $4.5 million in the capital projects fund, $11.5 million in the debt service fund, $1.39 million in the Associated Student Body (student council) fund and $900,000 in the transportation vehicle fund.
McEathron said revenues are expected to be 4.3 percent higher in 2021-22 than in 2020-21, and include $1.6 million in federal and state COVID-19 relief funds as well as the planned use of the $6.5 million from the district’s fund balance. Expenditures also are expected to be 11.4 percent higher in 2021-22 over 2020-21 levels, with 87 percent of the district’s general fund expenses going toward personnel costs, 7 percent to purchased services, 4 percent for materials and supplies, and 2 percent for capital outlay and other costs. The district will end the 2021-22 school year with a 9.7 percent fund balance, McEathron said.
Camas received fewer COVID relief funds than other school districts
The 2021-22 budget includes $1.6 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the state of Washington and the federal government. Because the relief funds were doled out based on school districts’ number of students who qualified for free and reduced lunches, Camas, a wealthier school district, has received fewer COVID-19 relief funds than other districts in the region.
For instance, while the Vancouver, Evergreen and Washougal school districts received $3,361, $2,745 and $1,785 per student, respectively, from three combined COVID-19 relief funds, the Camas School District only received $369 per student, and had the second lowest per-student relief funding level for school districts with 5,000 to 10,000 students in the state of Washington.
School board member Corey McEnry said Monday that the relief-funding formulas played into the district’s decision to use $6.5 million from its fund balance in the 2021-22 budget.
“When you’ve got Camas receiving (fewer COVID-19 relief funds than other districts), one of the ways we’re able to hold on to what we’ve got is the use of our fund balance, because we’ve been so prudent with that,” McEnry said.
McEathron noted that, although Camas received fewer relief funds, the district had pandemic-related expenses equal to that of other districts.
“We all experienced similar (needs for protective equipment) and losses in enrollment,” McEathron said. “And yet relief funding was not tied to enrollment. I think that would have been the preferred allocation method.”
To view McEathron’s 2021-22 Camas School District budget presentation, visit camas.wednet.edu/budget/budget/i-introduction/2021-22-budget-overview-discussion.