With revenues unlikely to improve in the future, we will continue to face tough decisions that may challenge the balance of compensation and staffing levels to support all programs and services.

One of the main responsibilities of the school board is to review and approve the annual budget.

This is a process that happens throughout the year in monthly board meetings that are presented, reviewed, and discussed, culminating in a final budget in late spring.

Each year, the budget that is submitted to the state must be balanced with revenues matching expenses. Our budget is sent to the state even before we know all the essential details, like student enrollment and final staffing, that drive revenue and expenses.

Despite these uncertainties, we have an extremely strong track record of managing our budget over the years. Of a $27 million budget, we consistently end the year within one to three percent in the black. We would like to report that our finances are definitely in order.

We would also like to assert that we are all (every one of us) extraordinarily frustrated by the shortcomings of state funding — and it leads to the most difficult decisions when budgeting and planning.

One of our core values is attracting and retaining staff across all programs – teachers, custodians, maintenance and facilities, classified, and administrators. In order to do this, we aim to compensate within a range of other comparable districts, so we are not too high and not too low.

This goldilocks principle helps us manage expenses more smoothly from year to year. As the district reviews the budget with union-represented leaders and non-represented employees throughout the year, we seek to be transparent about the budget to align program needs with revenue sources.

With revenues unlikely to improve in the future, we will continue to face tough decisions that may challenge the balance of compensation and staffing levels to support all programs and services. The only way to navigate this is through collaboration and transparency with staff.

We do not have a budget deficit, what we do have is a failure of our state to fully fund public education.

There are several funding points to define:

1) the state only provides funding based on below basic staffing levels (called the “prototypical model”).

2) After the McCleary decision, the state boosted some district funding based on localized costs of living. This is called “regionalization”. We receive an additional 12%, whereas most of the surrounding districts receive 18%. That gap is significant.

3) Our special educational services cost about $800,000 more than the state funds and we are required to provide these services.

4) Remember, the state does not fund any construction, maintenance, and/or technology. So to continue to operate our schools we need local levy support. To build or repair new facilities and systems (like asbestos abatement and locker rooms), we need local support for bonds.

The school board is involved, engaged, and provides oversight across the budget decisions and is proud of our excellent fiscal track record. Given the history of yearly expenditures tracking with the budget, clean audits, and continuing to offer compensation that attracts and retains high-quality staff, the board has a high level of confidence in the superintendent, district administration, and building principals that lead the budget process and day-to-day fiscal operations.

It’s not easy work when the state is not fulfilling its promise to make funding public education its paramount duty.

With the new strategic plan, we are pushing a culture of additional accountability which monitors not just actions, but also results. As a board, we consider financial solvency and sustainability as critical objectives.

Although Matt Sullivan accepted a new position with Mercer Island (where I’m sure he will do great things), we continue to have a strong team looking after our finances and accounting. It is an appropriate time to benchmark our operations and organization and receive an independent assessment — this is why we are asking for [consulting] help from the Washington Association of School Administrators.

If we learn that we need to organize differently to get the job done right, we will.

The community has elected the board and entrusted us with oversight in an environment of constrained resources and bold goals. We all have high expectations of what we want to provide and we will continue to be creative to meet our goals.

The district leadership and staff will need to work side-by-side, all year, to collaborate in the budgeting process – not just for this year, but every year to ensure we fulfill the Vashon Promise, “Every student is welcomed, known, and treasured, and graduates confident and competent to thrive in a future they imagine.”

Toby Holmes is chair of Vashon Island School District’s elected school board.