Superintendent’s Message about the Levy

February 22, 2021 rsanders

Superintendent’s Message about the Levy

Feb. 22, 2021

Dear Battle Ground Public Schools community,

I want to share with you an important discussion that our board had last week about the district’s levy. As you are probably aware, the levy failed to pass in the Feb. 9 election. Because this local funding is so important to the success of our students, I want you to know what the board discussed and what the implications are for students and staff. You can also watch last week’s board presentation and discussion on the BGPSVideo YouTube channel.

First, a look at the election, which saw a turnout of 38.7% of registered voters. The levy received 9,653 yes votes (47.53%) and 10,658 no votes (52.47%). The levy needed a simple majority, or 50% plus 1 vote, to pass. Of the 46 Washington districts that ran levies on Feb. 9, 42 passed.

The district can run the levy up to two times in a calendar year. At its meeting last week, the board came to a consensus that it would not rerun the levy in the April election. Even though waiting to rerun the levy would mean the district would have to make cuts for next school year, the board decided it would be best to allow time for students to return to in-person learning and to take the time to engage with and get feedback from the community about the levy and the programs and services it values. Other possible election dates that the levy could be sent to voters in 2021 are August 3 and November 2.

At the meeting, Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters, who has been appointed to be Battle Ground’s next superintendent when I retire this summer, shared with the board the steps the district would need to take without a levy and the impact it would have on next year’s district budget. He shared that

  • The levy represents $30 million in local and state levy equalization funds, or about 14% of the district’s total budget.
  • The levy makes up the difference between what the state doesn’t fund and what the district needs to provide educational programs that support all students’ needs.
  • The levy also pays for technology, athletics, maintenance and operations, and social-emotional services.
  • Nearly all, or 289 of Washington’s 295 districts, have levies. The six districts that don’t have levies are very small or have other sources of funding.
  • The district cannot just cut everything that the levy funds; some of the items the levy pays for are unfunded mandates that the state does not fund but the district is required to provide (e.g., $3.6 million in special education services; and staff such as nurses and psychologists). If the levy doesn’t pass, these items will need to be paid for out of state basic education funds, which means there would be fewer dollars for basic education, and some items considered basic education will need to be cut.

Looking at the budget, levy funds are collected on a calendar year by the county, while the school operates on a fiscal year (September through August). The current levy expires at the end of 2021. This means that not having a new levy would affect the second half of next school year (January-August 2022) and the first half of the following school year (September-December 2022). The district anticipates it will need to reduce the budget by about $15 million in each of those years. The board approves the district’s final budget, but the district presented a possible path at last week’s board meeting.

For next school year (2021-22), the district could reduce the budget by using a significant portion of its fund balance, which is like a piggy bank of money that the district has been saving on an annual basis to pay for larger educational purchases. Once spent, these funds would be gone and not available to reduce the budget in future years. The district could use the fund balance money that it has been saving for:

  • Curriculum ($2.5 million)
  • Social-emotional services ($1.5 million)
  • Capital Improvements ($1.5 million)
  • Middle school sports ($500,000)
  • CARES funds ($2 million)

This means that middle school sports wouldn’t happen and these other purchases wouldn’t be made. These funds would cover about $8 million in expenses; in order to reach the necessary $15 million in budget reductions next year, other items that could be cut include

  • Staff cuts of 26 classified and 20 certificated ($3 million)
  • K-4 supplies and 10% of building budgets ($500,000)
  • CAM lease ($500,000)
  • 20% of Department budgets ($2 million)
  • Minimum fund balance allocation ($1 million)

In the following school year (2022-23), the district could carry the above $7 million in cuts over; however, it would still need to cut $8 million to get to the $15 million budget reduction needed in the second school year. Because the district is required to provide some services and programs the state doesn’t fund, there are few places left to cut except for staff, which comprises about 80% of the district’s total budget. To reach $8 million, the district would need to cut approximately 67 classified and 53 certificated staff. Combined with the previous year’s staff cuts, this would be 166 total positions. The district would most likely need to consider reducing district office staff, assistant principals, counselors, prevention/intervention specialists, security, crossing guards, and grounds and maintenance. In addition, the district would need to consider cutting some high school athletics and activities and perhaps closing alternative learning programs.

Two things to note. First, these reductions were made as suggestions for what the district could cut if the levy does not pass; however, the final decision on what would be cut is up to the school board. Second, if the levy were to pass this year, the district could replenish the fund balance items listed above (curriculum, middle school sports, etc.).

Beyond the levy, the district, like all districts in Washington, has been grappling with the impacts of enrollment loss due to the pandemic. Any staff cuts due to the levy not passing will be made in addition to workforce reductions that will need to be made due to the drop in enrollment.

I wish I had a different story to tell. We, as a district, want only the best for our students and strive every day to deliver on the goals of providing high-quality academic instruction and supporting student’s social-emotional needs. Unfortunately, Washington state does not provide the funding necessary to achieve these goals. The state’s model for K-12 funding is based on a study done in the 1970s, when education was vastly different from what it is today. McCleary prompted a levy swap that increased property taxes to be redistributed to all districts and imposed caps on local levies. It was a good place to start, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problems associated with an antiquated funding model. And then there are the mandates that we must provide without any funding at all. We have approached our state legislators about these issues, and I encourage our families to do the same.

Battle Ground Public Schools needs the community’s support to provide for the educational needs of our children. Every school district needs its community’s support, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all districts have a local levy. We are working on a plan to get community input on these issues so that we can move forward in a constructive way that will benefit our entire community. Please watch for upcoming opportunities to participate.

Thank you,

Mark Ross, Superintendent
Battle Ground Public Schools

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