Richland and Kennewick school officials have approved budgets for the coming academic year that don't anticipate laying off staff or dumping programs, despite state funding cuts.
But they expect money will get even tighter the year after that, when federal stimulus funds used to backfill for lost revenues go away.
"What we've pretty much determined is that we're going to make it through 2010-11," said Rich Puryear, executive director of financial services for the Richland School District. "But I think all school districts in the next biennium and maybe another (after that) will be having some difficulties."
The Richland and Kennewick school boards adopted their 2010-11 budgets at recent meetings. Pasco is expected to adopt its budget later this summer. It hasn't been an easy process. For the second straight year, districts across Washington have had to tighten their belts significantly to help balance the state's 2009-11 biennial budget.
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The biggest hits to Tri-City districts in 2010-11 are to Initiative 728 money and a stream of funding known as "K-4 enhancement." Both are used to shrink class sizes, typically by paying for staff positions. I-728 has been eliminated and K-4 money is being reduced.
In Kennewick, for example, the loss totals more than $2 million.
Kennewick and Richland plan to dip into their reserves in 2010-11, though officials said they'll still maintain a healthy amount in those accounts.
They're also getting some more levy equalization money from the state than in 2009-10. Most districts rely on voter-approved tax levies to help pay the bills, and levy equalization is given to "property poor" districts when their measures pass to level the playing field with their more affluent counterparts.
Kennewick is expecting $870,000 more in levy equalization, and Richland is expecting $300,000 more.
Kennewick actually is adding 19 certificated positions, which include teachers, in part because it is opening a new elementary school in the fall.