The School Board last week got its first look at the Kent School District’s latest proposed budget, which is designed to meet a projected $2.6 million gap between expected revenues and expenditures.
“In order to stay even, we have to make cuts,” said John Knutson, the district’s executive director of finance. “It’s a tight budget this year.”
To meet the shortfall, the district anticipates a 20 percent across-the-board cut to department administration budgets in non-labor and miscellaneous labor costs, such as overtime and special programs.
“We always, of course, look to make cuts as far from the classroom as we can,” Knutson said.
Unfortunately, the budget is so tight this year that the district will have to cut the per-pupil funding amount by approximately $8 each, according to Knutson. Those cuts could result in reductions in travel funds and professional development.
The source of the budget gap comes from both the revenue and expenditure ledgers of the district’s books.
On the revenue side, the Kent School District, like many others around the state, has seen less funding coming in as the state levels out its apportionment money, officials explained. Also, this year the district saw only a small increase in the funds it receives from Initiative 728, a measure passed by voters statewide in 2000 to help reduce class sizes.
According to Knutson, the district had routinely seen yearly increases of $1.5 million to $2.5 million, but this year’s I-728 increase was “minor.”
On the expenditure side, the district saw increased costs from state-mandated raises to salaries and benefits, which constitute 85 percent of the district budget. The budget also took a “real hit,” said Knutson, when the state raised retirement rates, increasing the amount the district must pay for locally-funded employees.
“This year alone we saw a 36 percent increase in retirement rates,” Knutson said. “That’s a big jump.”
While the state-mandated cost-of-living increases for teachers and other certified staff are covered in the state funding formula, the district must pay out of its own levy funds to match those raises for non-”formula staff.”
The cost-of-living increase this year is approximately 6.5 percent, but levy funds are only up 4 percent, according to Knutson. That means the school district will get more money from the state, but will still have to make budget cuts.
“We can’t afford to keep the same level of services because of that,” Knutson said.
Other costs – such as food, utilities and fuel for the district’s 120 buses – also continue to increase.
Board member Bill Boyce said there were “lots of challenges” for this year’s budget, and he compared the difficulties facing the district to those faced by families.
“Like my family, there are times we have to make an adjustment to live within our means,” he said. “It’s our job as board members to make sure we are good stewards of taxpayer money.”
Boyce also said it’s important that the district keeps a 5- ercent fund balance in place — money that represents approximately 10 days worth of funding for the district. Keeping that balance is “critical” to district financial health, he said, adding that the district needs the funds as a contingency against sudden, unexpected costs, like a drastic increase in fuel prices.
The district could raise the fees for community use of school buildings, according to Knutson. Currently, the district charges what officials call a “nominal fee.”