Budget cuts starting to affect quality of education
Increasingly, American adults are coming to grips with the notion that their children may face a lower quality of life than they themselves enjoy.
If trends continue, that possibility could include a lower quality education as well.
Since the Great Recession, education funding has continued to dwindle, forcing hard decisions. In the Mukilteo School District, that has meant program and staffing reductions, more crowded schools, maintenance delays and other cutbacks.
On June 11, members of the public will have an opportunity to weigh in before the board of education votes on Superintendent Marci Larsen’s proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year.
Although the $147 million budget would be the district’s largest ever, it mostly reflects continued population growth – not new funding.
In fact, cutbacks from previous years would remain in place, including the loss of para-educators for K-3 classrooms, less funding for English Language Learner and other alternative learning programs, and the elimination of I-728 funds that voters had approved to reduce classroom size and provide extended learning opportunities for students and professional development for teachers.
Thanks to population growth, coupled with a conservative budgeting approach and voters’ continuing support, Mukilteo district educators have managed to offset some of the state funding losses.
Carolyn Webb, executive director of business services, said the district has used local levy funds and savings to soften the blow from state cutbacks. But the future could be worse.
“The savings account and levy are what’s been saving us,” Webb said. “I don’t think the state will ever make that up.
“There are a lot of costs continuing, but a lot of reductions that won’t be restored.”
Worse for Mukilteo, some officials in Olympia, under the gun to fully fund K-12 education, are looking at reducing local districts’ levy authority to move that money to the state for redistribution.
Districts that haven’t enjoyed the same kind of local voter support as Mukilteo or that have lower property valuations see that idea as a way to establish a stable source of revenue.
Judy Schwab, president of the Mukilteo Board of Education, said she understands legislators’ desire to find a way to replace the costly levy equalization act, which balances school tax distribution between property rich and property poor districts, “but not at the expense of our local funding.”
“I’m very concerned that such a model might lead to the state dictating even further how we manage our district budget,” Schwab said.
While the specifics of the proposal remain to be worked out, Webb said the concern here is that the formula would not adequately fund what Mukilteo does now. Threatened areas in the budget could include employee salaries and benefits, substitute costs, transportation, special education and the six-period day, she said.
“If we don’t have our levies, it could be difficult,” Webb said.
School board members have been working closely with the administration on the budget this Spring, and appear to be in agreement with Larsen’s recommendations.
Despite the continuing challenges, board members are sounding as upbeat as possible.
Board member Mike Simmons said he stands by the positions he took during last year’s campaign, including his “steadfast commitment to the learning and success of our students, bar none.”
“The educational partnership among parents, teachers, students and community, fiscal responsibility, and the professional development and growth of our educators are still the key areas” of his focus, Simmons said.
Newly-elected board member Ron Johnson sounded a similar theme.
Noting “there are no easy answers,” he pointed to his opening statement in last year’s voters’ pamphlet: “Let’s be real. Barring a major catastrophe, the greatest issue facing the Mukilteo School District over the next few years will be the budget.”