The state Legislature’s 11th-hour passage of a state budget Friday may have come too late to help local schools plan their budgets for next year.
Six months of indecision frustrated the plans of Richland school officials to prepare a fully considered school district budget before an Aug. 31 deadline, Superintendent Rick Schulte said.
“If the board has to adopt what I will call a ‘working budget’ based on insufficient information from the state, it is possible ... we may not initially fund some staff positions, equipment, supplies or materials that we could have funded,” Schulte said.
The new state budget adds $1.8 billion for public schools in the next biennium, part of a $7.3 billion hike over the next few years designed to satisfy a state Supreme Court ruling, known as the McCleary decision, that the state had not adequately funded basic education.
“I believe this budget at long last will meet our constitutional obligations to fully and fairly fund basic education,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday night.
Nathan Olson, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s communication manager, said Friday that state education officials will spend a week crunching the new numbers before holding a July 7 meeting with the districts.
Previously, when the budget negotiations dragged late into the year, the state didn’t make drastic changes to the next year.
“We don’t expect there is going to be significant changes for next (school) year,” he said.
The following school year may see some significant changes.
We don’t expect there is going to be significant changes for next (school) year.
Nathan Olson, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
Meanwhile, the school districts based budget proposals so far on their predictions of what next year’s funding would look like.
The uncertainty put district plans to hire additional staff, buy new equipment and negotiate contracts with two employee groups on hold.
Schulte pointed out the decisions will impact every part of the district’s operations, including compensation, collective bargaining and the method for how the district receives money.
The Kennewick School District recently approved its budget. Officials based it on a prediction that the state wouldn’t decrease funding, said Vic Roberts, the executive director of business operations. Officials plan to adjust the budget if they get more money then they expect.
The Pasco School District hasn’t passed its budget yet, but is using a similar method to Kennewick and Richland in putting together plans. They are using last year’s expenses, adding cost-of-living pay increases, and waiting before approving anything new.
“The fiscal services department is confident that they will have a budget for the full year ready in time for approval by the board in August,” said Shane Edinger, the district’s director of public affairs.