by Delanie Meisner – Editor-in-Chief
As a consequence of underestimated revenues, overestimated expenditures, and other ‘converging factors’ over the past few years, on April 7, Kent School District instituted an immediate spending and hiring freeze for the rest of the 2016-2017 school year in order to reverse the proclaimed ‘budget crisis’.
Here, department budgets not only were reduced, but then frozen as curricular leaders tried to spend the rest of this years’ monies on supplies. In order to spend the rest of the money, leaders must justify how the money will be spent on student learning.
Not only were the department budgets frozen, decisions were made regarding programs the school offers. The activities buses that run on both Wednesdays and Thursdays have been reduced to Thursdays only. Curricular leaders and administration wanted to continue the Thursday activity bus so that students can still get extra help after school, clubs can continue to operate, and students can ride the bus after serving detention.
Teachers were also cautioned against food being thrown away in classrooms because the school is running out of garbage liners and will not be able to purchase more this year.
For a budget to work properly, expenses and income must match. There must be a comparable amount of money entering and exiting the district. However, this is not the case of the KSD budget. Mike Newman, KSD Chief Business Officer said, “Simply put, over the past several years, we’ve experienced a decreasing fund balance due to higher costs and lower revenues than previously predicted.”
According to the KSD website, approximately 40% of the budget shortfall is accredited to an overestimation of student enrollment. It said, “Like all school districts, KSD has to predict future class sizes using standard population forecasting – new building permits, housing starts, and new apartment construction. However, some of those projects predicted for the KSD service area did not materialize. In addition, there was an increase in the number of students participating in Running Start as well as a new local charter school. That combination reduced actual enrollment by some 500 students from earlier predictions.“
The district also puts partial blame on the State for some of the problems. It said, “Action by the Legislature to fully fund basic education (McCleary) would have assisted in providing the resources for the compensation increases.” Additionally, the district said, “Had the legislature replaced the “ghost dollars” (I-728, I-732, and the K-4 Enhancement) with real resources, those would have equated to over $35 million for students in the Kent School District.”
This 2016-2017 school year, the materials, supplies, and operating cost budget was cut by 20%. These actions were supposed to help the district to get back on track fiscally. On some levels, this worked, but according to the graphs provided by the district, there could still be a $10-20 million deficit if spending were to continue as usual.
Due to this potential deficit, the spending and hiring freeze was enacted. The spending freeze entails that, “Any materials, supplies, textbooks, and software that is not essential to completing this school year, will not be purchased. We are also placing a temporary stop on all overtime, extra hours, and special projects, much of our professional development that’s planned, as well as out of district travel not already approved.” Newman said.
All essential services such as transportation, food and nutrition, mandatory testing, and repairs will continue to be funded.
The hiring freeze means that for the rest of the 16-17 school year, all open positions will not be filled. All open positons will be up for review next year to determine necessity. As of right now, there are no plans to reduce the workforce, so no one will be laid off this coming school year. However, if the budget problems persist, a reduction in force will be considered in future years.
As a result of the budget deficits, students can expect to be in classes that are at full capacity. “In 2017-18, classes will be larger and more classes will be in overload–although no classes will be over the negotiated class size cap. In addition, in some smaller elementary schools, to best utilize human resources with reduced numbers of students, HR allocated for split classes in certain grades.”