Legislature’s gridlock makes it tough for M’ville schools to plan

  • May. 25, 2017 1:30 a.m.

MARYSVILLE – It’s never easy for a school district to plan a budget – there are so many unknowns.

But this year it is especially difficult because the state legislature is supposed to fully fund education. That’s been its No. 1 goal. Yet, it seems like little progress has been made, even though now they are in their second special session.

Marysville School District Superintendent Becky Berg and Finance Director Mike Sullivan talked about budget challenges this week.

They said they have to plan for the worst-case scenario. But of course they would react positively if the legislature provides some funding.

“They are so far apart on ideology,” Sullivan said of the Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

The district’s annual budget is about $142 million, with 83 percent going to personnel. The state pays about 70 percent of the budget, which equals about $6,744 per student.

Sullivan said he has heard the state is going to provide more funds, but he doesn’t know what “more money means yet.” He’s afraid there may be “strings attached.” He did survey employees for budget requests. “People say we need money” but it would mean we’d have to reduce something else, he said.

Based on trends of the past nine years, Sullivan said he is planning for the district to have 205 fewer students next year. That would mean a $1.4 million reduction in state funding, which is based on enrollment. To make up that cost, the district plans to cut six secondary school teachers, to go along with the teachers retiring or leaving the district. They estimate each teacher, when figuring in salary plus all the benefits, costs the district an average of $115,000. They said if enrollment doesn’t drop that far, and/or if the legislature improves funding, some of those teachers could be rehired in September.

They said last year was worse for the district, with $2.9 million cut. Those reductions included administrative positions, such as a director of schools and a chief academic officer. Berg emphasized that the district is not cutting sports, arts or paraeducators.

She said social media reports that say the Schoolhouse Cafe at Totem Middle School is closing are inaccurate. But it is unknown if the chef will stay or not.

Sullivan said based on recent historical trends enrollment will be down in middle and high school, but elementary school enrollment varies, depending on the neighborhood.

“All around us is growth,” Sullivan said of neighboring school districts.

Berg said some students leave to attend schools where a parent teaches. Others leave and get a general equivalency degree or try an online school. Others may leave because of the district’s older schools or lower achievement scores. She wants the district to study the different reasons students go elsewhere.

But she did say “choice out” students are “fewer than in years past.” For example, many opted out after the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

There have been some hot topics this year, such as changes in the Highly Capable program and potential changes at Marysville Getchell High School. But Berg said she thinks the problem has been fixed with Hi-Cap with better communication. As for the future of the four academies at MG, the district was to receive a report Thursday, with a final decision being recommended May 30.

Berg hinted that changes may be “beyond MG. It may be a bigger picture.”