School district passes budget as funding questions loom in state budget process

The Vashon Island School District board last Thursday approved a $38.7 million budget — $12 million more than the current spending plan thanks to a bond that passed earlier this year.

But while the budget passed, it is guaranteed to change. State legislators have yet to pass a budget that complies with the McCleary decision to fully fund Washington’s public schools, yet school districts are legally mandated to complete their budgets by July 10. Without a budget from the state, it is impossible to know how much funding the district will receive.

“We know changes are coming, we just don’t know in what form,” Vashon Island School District Executive Director of Business & Operations Matt Sullivan explained at last Thursday’s meeting. “Salaries are variable. Everything else is locked in.”

More than $16 million (76 percent of the general fund) of the school district’s budget funds salaries, but the state currently only provides roughly 66 percent of that funding necessary to pay district employees. According to Vashon school district budget documents, the remaining 33 percent of salaries and benefits is “provided by local taxpayers” through the Maintenance and Operations Levy, grant funding or community fund -raising. It is that fact that the McCleary decision five years ago set out to change.

But now, the decision has caused a standstill at the capitol as Senate Republicans and House Democrats try to reach a deal on the state budget for the next two years, plus an education funding plan that will satisfy the state Supreme Court. The legislature’s second special session ended today, Wednesday, and a third special session has started. If a budget isn’t passed by the end of the month, a partial government shutdown is inevitable.

According to a June 16 article in The Everett Herald, preparations for a shutdown have already begun and the effects of that on school budgets is also unknown.

Vashon Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman spoke to the difficulty of this year’s budget process at an earlier meeting.

“We’re requesting the board to adopt a budget … not knowing the exact numbers from the salaries. We don’t know what they’re (members of the Legislature) going to do,” he said.

Senate budget chair John Braun has been quoted in articles in The Seattle Times, NW News Network and multiple other media outlets saying he “wants to wrap up” the budget work and that having a budget by June 30 is possible.

This is not the first time the Legislature has taken budget talks down to the wire. It happened in 2013 and again in 2015, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a budget on the deadline: June 30.

While budget uncertainty loomed, Vashon school board members decided to move forward last Thursday with a proposal to create another all-gender bathroom at Vashon High School. Longtime school board member Bob Hennessey moved to allocate $25,000 to convert one of the high school’s existing gendered bathroom to an all-gender bathroom.

The decision comes after a presentation from the school’s Queer Spectrum Alliance in April. It called for an all-gender bathroom that could be accessed without a key, unlike the bathroom that exists at the school currently.

Public outreach around the effort is set to begin in coming months.