The Kelso School District may need to cut $4 million from its $70 million operating budget next school year to make up for reduced local income caused by a local levy cap, according to district officials.

The levy cap came in response to the McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court ruling that ordered the Legislature to fully fund K-12 education and shift the financial burden off local, rural school districts.

The new funding model the Legislature adopted last year will leave some district budgets short in 2019-20 school year because the state allotment hasn’t “grown at a pace to sustain” the local reduction, Scott Westlund, Kelso finance director, told the Kelso School Board on Jan. 28.

“As you know, we are faced with a pretty daunting task this year — along with almost every district in the state — in how to deal with the post-McCleary decision,” Westlund said at a board workshop.

With $4 million, the district could pay the salaries of about 80 entry-level teachers (not counting benefits, taxes and other costs).

Some school districts are asking Legislators to remove the levy cap and restore local levy authority, but Kelso officials oppose that idea because they feel it’s counterintuitive to the McCleary decision: It relieves the state of its responsibility to fully fund education by allowing local district to fill in major funding gaps.

Instead, Kelso is supporting initiatives to get more state funding. That includes asking legislators to fully fund a new school employees benefits package, which would otherwise cost Kelso about $780,000 more next year.

Washington educators are also pressuring legislators to fully fund special education, which would free up about $1 million of locally raised dollars Kelso uses to make up for the difference between the state allocation and the actual costs of those program.

But school districts shouldn’t bank on receiving extra state money at this point, Westlund said. There’s still plenty of time left in the long legislative session, and it’s difficult to predict what legislators will decide.

To be “prudent and fiscally responsible,” the district must plan for potential reductions, Westlund wrote in a memo to the board. However, the district has not yet released any specifics on where cuts might be made.

Westlund will update the board on the current status of next year’s budget during a Monday night board meeting.

Also Monday the board will vote to approve a Health Occupations Students of America club for the high school, hear a report on student achievement and social emotional learning initiatives at Butler Acres Elementary School and vote to approve updates to policies prohibiting corporal punishment and outlining ways to prevent anaphylactic shock.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the district office on Crawford Street.

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