The Marysville School District is preparing for budget cuts that could necessitate fees for sports and technology use, as well other changes in the district.
Voters in the district failed to pass an Educational Programs and Operations levy twice in 2022 and the district will be without those funds for part of the upcoming 2022-23 school year.
The reductions could reach as high as $13.5 million and 35 teachers were given layoff notices earlier this year in May.
EPO levies are relied on by the vast majority of school districts in the state to fill educational needs that state funding does not completely cover.
“Without community money, the school system is not set up in Washington state to appropriately care for the needs of students while they’re being educated,” said Paul Galovin, school board president, during a school board retreat on July 21.
Because levy tax collections do not perfectly align with the school year, the district will still collect their final remaining local levy dollars from their previously passed levy.
Pandemic relief funds have also been able to fill positions, such as counselors, that has been helpful to relieve some of the budget, but cuts are still coming for the 2022-23 school year.
Those two pots of money soften the blow of the levy rejection, but will not last forever, said Galovin.
“We are dialing things back with our class sizes and running some pretty big class sizes to save some dollars,” said David Cram, executive director of finance with the school district.
During their July 25 meeting the school board will consider whether to implement fees for sports and for Chromebook use, which students in middle and high school receive.
There is a reduced fee for those on free and reduced lunch and assistance is available from grant funds the district keeps for those who still need financial support.
“We have the ability to find help for those who need the assistance,” said Cram. “[These funds] would also help kids if, for example, they want to play basketball and can’t afford new basketball shoes, we have funds for that."
The technology use fee is needed as the district was unable to renew the warranty for the Chromebook issued by Marysville secondary schools, but still needs to repair them yearly.
A budget presentation is also scheduled for the district’s Aug. 1 meeting.
School board members may opt to dip into the reserve funds to offset some of the impacts of the budget shortfall.
Galovin said that method can put the district at risk however.
“Not keeping a reserve is incredibly dangerous to our survivability,” Galovin said.
In the past the district has hit a zero balance in their reserves and had to borrow to pay teachers, creating a debt that the district is carrying which puts additional burden on the budget today.
“I’m not saying it’s out of the realm of possibility, but we do put ourselves at risk,” he said.
Officials have begun the work to plan the next levy attempt, which could happen as soon as February 2023.
The funds are critical for the school district as it currently exists.
“If the district does not pass a levy, the district will be insolvent eventually. Now I can’t tell you when that would happen, but it would happen in the future,” said Cram.
The district’s second attempt at a levy was at a reduced tax proposal, but was still rejected.
Whether school board members continue with the same amount or change it is still to be decided.
School board members said that effectively getting the message out will be critical for the success of the levy.
“We started that process during the last levy,” said school board member Wade Rinehardt, who added those efforts need to be increased this time. “Somebody was asking me ‘in the upcoming levy, are we going to know where the money is going,’ and the answer to that should absolutely be ‘yes,’” he said.
School board member Connor Krebbs agreed that the communications need to be sent out as early as possible.
“Making the information thorough and getting the information out earlier than we did before is important,” he said.
Superintendent Zac Robbins said there are a couple of committees that have already begun work.
“A lot of folks have come forward and said ‘how can we help? and that has been very encouraging,” he said. “The district office is on the same page. Let’s get started with what we can get started as soon as possible.”