Below is a copy of a budget message from Superintendent Patrick Murphy emailed this morning to all OSD staff and families. The link at the end of the message is to a budget page on our district website, which includes more information on the budget. The information includes links to Frequently Asked Questions, a recent Op-Ed in The Olympian written by area superintendents, the Olympia School Board’s “Legislative and Funding Priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session” resolution, and more.
A reminder to staff that state law prohibits the use of public funds for lobbying except under narrow circumstances defined by law. Staff are reminded to not do anything that could be construed as lobbying on district time or otherwise expend district funds for lobbying.
Hello Olympia School District Families,
As we enter the second half of the state legislative session, I am deeply disappointed to report that we have not seen lawmakers propose and support the kind of clear-cut financial resolutions to adequately address our projected $8.5 million budget deficit for the 2019-20 school year.
We are at a point where we would be remiss in our duties if we did not begin more formal planning for spending reductions in the event there is no legislative fix, or an inadequate one, by the end of the session. Schools need to prepare their staffing and programs now for the coming year.
We will look across our entire system to identify potential spending reductions while trying to minimize impacts to the classroom. We will again be asking for your help via an online budget survey to help us set budget reduction priorities. We will also use our recently adopted Student Outcomes, developed as part of ongoing Strategic Planning work, to help in this process.
For those of you unfamiliar with the history leading up to our projected deficit, we have been clear since the adoption of House Bill 2242 in 2017 that the so-called “McCleary fix” legislation did not help the Olympia School District. Instead, it resulted in a disproportionate allocation of revenue to districts across the state, thus creating winners and losers. Unfortunately, our district is in the latter category.
We have shared in previous messages to our community how the Olympia School District failed to receive state regionalization dollars. This is particularly perplexing as every other district on the I-5 corridor that touches Puget Sound received this money. Lawmakers have been unable to explain why we were left out of receiving regionalization given that Olympia housing prices exceed housing prices in several districts that received regionalization funds.
Equally concerning, the state eliminated a long-time funding mechanism that apportioned more funds to districts with more experienced and thus higher-paid staff (staff mix funding). The elimination penalizes districts like Olympia with more highly educated and/or highly experienced teachers. In 2018, the Legislature agreed to allocate $2.3 million to Olympia beginning in the 2019-20 school year to address this problem, which we were grateful to receive. However, even with this new funding, we still would have received millions of dollars more and been better off under the state’s old funding model. This was confirmed by a recent study of the Washington Association of School Administrators. The association calculated that the Olympia School District should receive $5.9 million in hold harmless funding because our district, like 83 other districts in the state, would have been better funded under the old funding rules.
Additionally, state funding for our students with special needs continues to be inadequate. We subsidize our special education programming between $4 and $5 million annually out of our local levy funds. There is proposed legislation to increase state funding; however, the legislation we have seen is sorely lacking in its ability to make up for this subsidy.
Without any regionalization and staff mix funding, we were especially hard struck by the new state-imposed restrictions on our local, voter-approved levy collection. The McCleary legislation imposed an arbitrary limit of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value for school levies. As a result, our local levy collection has been cut in half. We previously used that levy to pay for teachers, nurses, librarians, principals and other critical support staff. Other districts in north Puget Sound with higher property values are collecting all or nearly all of their previous levy amounts. And in many cases, those same districts are collecting significant regionalization dollars on top of that. The result is that some districts saw hefty increases in revenue while others saw minimal or fractional gains. Once again, Olympia is in the latter category.
We have heard some legislators — not from our legislative district — declare that budget deficits are a result of school districts irresponsibly bargaining pay increases. To be clear, our district’s significant deficit was projected long before any salary bargaining had occurred. We value our staff greatly, as they are the key to the quality of our educational programming. We are committed to attracting, recruiting, retaining, and supporting the finest educators in the state, and we have. It is frustrating that we are planning for reductions to support this commitment while other districts are implementing enhancements. Again, this is due to the disparate revenue disbursement to districts as a result of the McCleary fix.
While we have been sharing the message about our projected shortfall with you for nearly a year now, as stated, we had hoped that there would be a clear legislative fix by now. The governor’s proposed budget and at least one proposed Senate bill (SB 5313) were encouraging, but the Senate bill never made it out of committee. A new House bill (HB 2140) is now under consideration, and while we remain hopeful there will be relief before the end of this legislative session, time is getting short in our budget planning process for the 2019-20 school year.
We also want to make it clear that increasing the levy is not our preferred way to address the revenue inequities facing Olympia. We would rather legislators give us state regionalization or special education dollars; but, if those solutions do not become reality or do not close the gap, we believe our voter-approved levy should be an option for our community.
We will continue to advocate, educate and implore our local legislators to help push through sensible, sustainable funding for the students and families of the Olympia School District. Many of you have asked how you can contact your local legislators. A list of our local legislative contacts, and more information about the budget, are posted on the school district website.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our schools.
Patrick Murphy, Superintendent