MLSD begins work on $118 million budget for 2019-20

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MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School District has begun working on the budget for its 2019-2020 school year, and is looking at a reduction in revenue of roughly $1.5 million, bringing the total budget to around $118 million.

That’s down from the 2018-19 school budget of $119.6 million.

Superintendent Josh Meek told members of the Moses Lake School Board at a regular meeting Thursday that the biggest revenue decline the district is facing is the near-halving of the local levy to $6 million this year from $11.4 million in 2018 as a result of the state legislature’s attempt to fix school funding, part of which included a cap on local property levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“This is the year the levy change hits us most significantly,” Meek said.

However, Meek also told board members that since district enrollment came in roughly 100 under the district’s forecast of 8,400 for the 2018-19 school year, the district is also conservatively estimating even fewer students next year — 8,070 — which means even less state funding.

Meek said this decline in enrollment appears to be a statewide trend that no one can explain.

“Everything is student enrollment-driven,” Meek told board members.

The state funds schools by providing salaries and benefits for one teacher for every certain number of students.

Meek said the district has been able to save nearly $2.7 million by not filling 15 full-time teacher positions, 15 para-educator positions, a high school assistant principal position and an elementary assistant principal job, as well as several other administrative, clerical and maintenance jobs.

“We are not laying off anyone,” Meek said. “But we are leaving some positions unfilled.”

In addition, the district has been able to shift over roughly $866,000 in para-educator costs from general education to a special state fund that targets “high-poverty” students.

All told, Meek said the district has been able to find around $3.4 million in savings in its general education budget for next year.

School Board President Elliott Goodrich said that as board members consider next year’s school budget, nothing should be off the table. As an example, he said outsourcing the district’s transportation should be talked about.

“We should start at ground zero,” Goodrich said. “We cannot assume all things are working or worth continuing.”

Meek also told board members the district is going to hire future teachers this fall.

“We hire 60-80 in a typical year,” Meek said. “It’s closer to 20 this year.”

In a news release issued early Friday, Meek said the district and the Moses Lake Education Association have begun the “particularly complex” negotiations over the next teachers contract, which expires at the end of this school year.

Operations Director Joe Connolly also said the state will be cutting some of its monthly apportionment payments to districts in the early part of the school year and increasing them in the summer — a budgeting trick that allows the state to take advantage of the fact that the state’s fiscal year begins on July 1, while the school funding year begins on Sept. 1.

The board has to approve its next school budget no later than Aug. 31, and has planned several work sessions, including two early-August public hearings, in advance of that deadline.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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