Reduced state, federal funding cause Medcial Lake budget difficulties
By JAMES EIK
In four years, revenue for the Medical Lake School District has fallen nearly $4 million, including a cut for the 2012-13 budget.
From the high point of taking in revenues of $19.2 million in 2008-09, the district has seen steady declines, reaching the bleak forecast of $15.3 million in revenue expected for the 2012-13 school year.
Business manager Don Johnson said the largest factors in the decline have been state and federal funding, specifically in the form of impact aid, coupled with declining enrollment. State revenues peaked in 2008-09 just shy of $15 million, and are now coming in at $12.9 million. Impact aid, federal funding for students living on Fairchild Air Force Base, has fallen in the same four-year period from $3.5 million to $1.6 million.
Before seeing declining revenues, the district had a healthy general reserve fund. In order to lessen the pain from this year's budget, approximately $650,000 will come out of the fund, lowering it to $350,000 in the worst case scenario.
Some relief came in 2010-11 with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helping to make up for the continuing drop in state resources. Other help has come through grants, like the $1.2 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math funding the district received, helping to boost its budget by $450,000 annually for the next three years. The district was one of very few to receive the grant. Johnson said news of the funds came just before submitting the district's budget.
Creating this year's budget began with the knowledge that cuts would be coming. Administrators from all of the district's schools discussed the potential loss of programs.
“Back in January we started meeting with administrators,” Johnson said.
Although the budget has less revenue, the district was able to avoid a general reduction in force for teachers. A small reduction, however, took place for five classified employees. In addition, provisional employees, those with the district for less than three years, didn't receive renewed contracts. Further staff cuts were prevented through retirements and some employees moving to other area districts.
“We did have a blessing in disguise, with some retirements this year,” he said.
The picture is likely to remain unchanged, however, unless the district can put a halt on its student losses. Enrollment has declined continuously since 2002-03, when the district had 2,175 full-time equivalent students. At the district's last count in March, there were 1,815 full-time students, a drop of 90 from the end of the previous year.
“A lot comes back to enrollment,” Johnson said.
Some hope is on the horizon, as only nine fewer students are expected for next year. Also, reductions in state funds were smaller than previous years, following the Washington state Supreme Court's verdict that the Legislature wasn't adequately funding education.
If the trend continues, coupled with some better economic forecasts, Medical Lake could see some positive news with its budget in the very near future.
“It will get better. I'm not sure if it'll be next year,” Johnson said. “I hope it is.”
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.