By Oliver Lazenby
At an April 29 meeting, the Blaine school district board of directors approved an initial plan for the 2019-2020 school year that will reduce services to make up for a projected $1.1 million budget deficit.
The district estimates it will need to reduce the number of full-time teaching positions by six and the number of non-teaching positions by about 53 employee-hours per week (that could be as many as 10 positions, since many are part-time and some as little as 2.5 hours per week.)
The school board typically passes a final budget at its August meeting, but must notify any teachers who may be laid off by May 15, according to its contract with the teachers’ union.
The district may not have to lay anyone off in the end, officials said; it’s likely that enough employees will resign or retire to make up for the budget deficit, and remaining teachers and employees can be re-assigned to fill gaps.
“Our hope would be that when all is said and done for this program year that we’ve accounted for all of our staff,” district superintendent Ron Spanjer said at the meeting. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to account for all of our programs.”
Spanjer said at an April 15 budget work session that discussions on cutting education programs “tend to lead toward electives.”
“That’s not to diminish the importance of electives,” he said. “We’re limited in terms of what our options are and right now the discussions lead to how we can be more efficient at the seventh to twelfth grade level.”
Districts around the state are in the same position as Blaine. The state in 2017 reduced the amount that districts can collect from local tax levies. Lawmakers intended to make districts around the state more equitable by providing more state funds and reducing districts’ reliance on their tax base.
For 2019-2020, the amount the Blaine school district can levy dropped by $2 million. Other factors contributing to the district’s budget deficit include increasing costs for audits, assessments and other programs the school is mandated to carry out, and increasing staff wages, said district finance director Amber Porter.
The state legislature passed a temporary lift to the “levy lid” on April 28 that will ease budget woes for some districts, but not Blaine. Senate Bill 5313 allows districts to levy the lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value or $2,500 per student, up from $1.50 per $1,000 of value or $2,500 per student. For Blaine, a district that includes more property owned by private industry than the average district, the lesser in both cases is $2,500 per student. Blaine already levies at the $2,500 per student level for 2019, but levied at a higher rate (about $1.84 per $1,000 in assessed value) in 2018.
District officials hoped several other pieces of legislation would ease its budget, but nothing did.
“Virtually every piece that we were looking to for some level of relief, albeit minimal, did not come through,” Spanjer said.