Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

District eyes legislature on financing, other measures

Fund balance remains steady, but will need help from Olympia to cover transportation, reduced enrollment impacts

 

Last updated 2/5/2021 at 3:19pm



CHENEY—School district officials and board members are bracing themselves for what the new year could bring in the form of legislation and funding adjustments — adjustments that could negatively impact operations.

In presenting the financial update, Finance Director Jamie Weingart noted there wasn’t a huge change in the district’s fund balance at the end of 2020. The operating fund balance dipped slightly, dropping from $5,860,779 in November to $5,854,744 in December.

Budget projections show it continuing to decline through February to under $5.4 million before ticking upwards in the spring. Historically, the fund balance sees a sharp increase in April as property taxes and other funding come through before a complete reversal takes place as the fund is heavily used to finish out the school year.

Right now, the $5.854 million is right about where the fund was in 2019 – 2020, and could stay slightly above those figures until the April – June slide. Projections indicate the district could see the fund increase to just over $6.4 million in April — as it did in 2020 — before sliding to finish out the year around $2.6 million, as compared to around $4.2 million in 2020.

Weingart said districts across the state had their “true up” in January and are now being funded by actual rather than budgeted enrollment. Along with other districts, Cheney experienced a sharp decline in enrollment this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic that moved instruction online and left some families looking for other opportunities for in-person learning.

Cheney’s enrollment was 4,824.55 full-time equivalent students in December 2020, well below the roughly 4,925 FTEs one year ago and the 5,050 used in budgeting and planning for this school year. Also impacted by the pandemic is transportation — with physical distancing requirements subsequently cutting ridership by about half.

Weingart said transportation funding from the state is normally based on ridership, but with fewer students riding and not all students back in school before the Feb. 1 ridership count, the numbers could “drastically reduce” funding for the remainder of the year. She added there is legislation in the works to provide some relief to districts, but nothing definitive has come forward yet.

“(We’re) trying to project out, if they don’t make any changes, what that could look like,” she added.

There were several positives to look at for the district, Weingart said. Recent figures from the county Assessor’s Office indicate the assessed value of property in the district rose by 11.8 % from 2020 – 2021, sixth-most among all county school districts.

Also of note is five of the county’s top-20 construction projects — as ranked by 2020 permit value by the Journal of Business — are in Cheney School District boundaries.

“Some of those will be coming onto our assessed valuation in 2021 for that 2022 year,” Weingart said, a factor that would impact property owners by decreasing levy rates.

Weingart also showed a list of the county’s largest employers — with the Cheney School District now ranked 23rd with 825 employees. Other West Plains employers on the list were Eastern State Hospital (866) at No. 20, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians (1,178) at No. 16, Eastern Washington University (1,349) at No. 10 and Fairchild Air Force Base at No. 1 with 6,560 employees.

In a legislative report, Board Director Suzanne Dolle listed three bills of interest that are being tracked. House Bill 1121 would allow the state Board of Education to grant waivers from graduation requirements to public and private school students due to “a significant disruption from a state, local or national emergency” while HB 1162 would revise the graduation credit requirement from 24 to 20, something that would apply to the class of 2021.

“They’re still advising the 24 credits, but it does reduce that,” Dolle added.

Finally, Senate Bill 5147 would direct the Office of the Superintendent of Public instruction to set up a program allow up to 30 school districts to provide 180 instructional days over the course of the entire calendar year, rather than September – June. It would set a minimum enrollment in the program of at least 500 students and a maximum of 10,000 with a majority of students qualifying for free and reduced meals and require OSPI to distribute funds based on a specific formula subject to appropriation.

– John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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