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Longview Schools

McCleary leaves Longview schools with $4.2M budget hole

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State lawmakers’ McCleary legislation was supposed to fix local school districts’ funding problems, but the Longview School District is facing a $4.2 million budget gap over the next four years under the new plan, according to new district projections.

It’s a development that is prompting Longview Superintendent Dan Zorn to lobby local legislators for more flexibility on how the district is allowed to spend state funds.

While the district will get an additional $14.6 million from the state over the next four years, local funding will drop by about $7.4 million over that span.

That leaves the district with a $7.2 million increase over the next four years, but its expenses are expected to climb $11.4 million over that same period. This means the district will have a $4.2 million hole to plug. (A $1 million annual shortfall is about 1.1 percent of the district’s $89 million operating budget for the 2017-18 school year.)

Rising health care costs and increased retirement obligations are driving the increase in expenses, Zorn said.

For example, while the district expects to receive an extra $3.5 million in discretionary funds from the state in 2018, about $1 million will be consumed by a districtwide increase in health care contributions for employees. The following year, the district is forecasting $2.4 million in new state discretionary funds, but about half of those dollars will go toward another health insurance increase.

Another driver of the shortfall is the new labor contracts with the local teachers union, classified staff and administrators. The new labor pacts, agreed to shortly after the Legislature adopted its McCleary plan, have resulted in an unexpected $600,000 budget hole for the 2018-2019 year, Zorn said.

Zorn said the district’s financial outlook would be better if it had more flexibility in how it uses state money. For example, the district is due to receive $39.7 million over the next four years in non-discretionary funds for vocational training, bilingual education, highly capable programs and targeted programs from low-income schools. He’d like flexibility to use some of that money to offset increased expenses.

Zorn said he’s recently met with lawmakers from the 19th Legislative District about removing some of the restrictions on non-discretionary funds.

“A bit more flexibility with our categorical funding is a piece we’d like to see,” he said.

Zorn is also asking the Legislature to chip in more to cover the rising cost of special education. The district is spending an additional $2.2 million in local levy dollars beyond what the state provided for special education this year.

“Obviously we’re underfunded for the special education needs we have,” he said.

“That’s not unique,” he added. “Statewide, everybody is struggling.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has also requested an extra $130 million in special education funding from the Legislature in his supplemental budget request for 2018.

The Legislature could also help the district by accelerating the implementation of its McCleary funding model, Zorn said

The McCleary legislation was intended to satisfy a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found the Legislature was neglecting its constitutional duty to fully fund the cost of basic education. The court’s eight justices recently approved the plan but also said Olympia must implement its blueprint a year earlier to comply with a September 2018 deadline.

The budget agreement boosts public education spending by about $1 billion per year statewide over four years, but full implementation doesn’t start until 2019.

“If that were to move up, it’d be a very different picture with that one-year acceleration,” Zorn said.


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