Cheney Free Press -

Mysteries remain in K-12 funding

Medical Lake taking a cautious approach to 2017-18 year

 

August 31, 2017



By PAUL DELANEY

Staff Reporter

Medical Lake School Superintendent Tim Ames might still remember those days.

It’s Christmas morning and the wrapping comes off that enormous gift. There is all kind of excitement until it is discovered that the “some assembly required,” item not only failed to be stocked with batteries, but no instructions to boot.

The new version of that present arrived in the form of the Washington State Legislature’s budget, which was painstakingly delivered in the final minutes of the fiscal year on June 30. It took a 120-day regular session, plus three overtimes to wrap up talks to spend $7.2 billion more on K-12 education statewide over the next four years.

What is known is Medical Lake will operate on a $22.8 million budget for the 2017-18 school year, but it’s what lies beyond that has Ames both concerned, and maybe a bit confused, too.

“There is an influx of dollars coming in that are an increase,” Ames said. But how much that will be remains pretty much a mystery.

What Ames does know is, “We’re going into (contract) negotiations and we do have some decent funds to do something with our staff.” But what that number is also remains unclear.

Under the new funding scheme average pay for teachers is going to be $64,000 on the new state salary schedule.

For Medical Lake, however, only 80 of those certified positions are funded through the state and the district has 125 certificated employees.

There are similar increases for classified employees — bus drivers, para-pros, cooks and others — but Medical Lake will receive dollars for just 18 of its 80 people in that group.

“Levy dollars were intended to bring that back and now they’re capping levy dollars and saying they can only be used on enrichment,” Ames said.

One of the biggest changes in K-12 funding came with the state adopting an across-the-board flat $1.50 per $1,000 in property values for school levies.

“My concern, which we’re still trying to figure out, what does a levy mean to us right now?” Ames said. Right now Medical Lake’s rate is at about $2.16 per $1,000. If the lower amount is used it means a loss of close to $800,000.

Medical Lake plans to run a three-year levy in February 2018 but the question remains at what rate will it be? This is particularly important with contract negotiations underway.

“The state has told districts that are headed into negotiations to work on a one-year contract until it becomes clear what the real money is,” Ames said.

Another “what if” is federal impact aid that is provided to the district for educating U.S. Air Force dependent children at Michael Anderson Elementary School at Fairchild.

Medical Lake never ran a high levy in the past because of the availability of Federal Impact Fund dollars to augment it, Ames said. “Combined, our impact aid and levy is about 14 percent (of the budget).”

The problem with impact aid is that it is doled out in October, well after staff has been hired and the school year is sailing along. “Any type of cut to that is going to hurt,” Ames said.

Ames said he’s read plenty, has learned little and is taking a cautious approach to 2017-18. “We’re trying to figure out still — I haven’t read anything, I haven’t seen anything yet — what is that going to look like when you cap our levy?” he added.

Another pending mystery is the addition of new tanker crews and an influx of students that are anticipated, but not guaranteed.

It is estimated the base will absorb possibly 700 more personnel with an average of two children each, Ames said. “We’re excited about that but the problem is there’s really no place to live in the Medical Lake School District.”

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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