Thanks to the nearly $1 billion that lawmakers injected into Washington state’s K-12 budget this year, Seattle Public Schools will be flush with cash — for at least the next school year.
After that, however, the state’s largest school district anticipates that boost won’t be enough to make up for an upcoming cut to its local property-tax collections. And that confluence of events, district officials warned this week, will likely trigger years of staffing and program cuts.
“Eighty-five percent of our money goes to staffing, so if we don’t have that money, that’s where it has to come,” new Superintendent Denise Juneau told The Seattle Times on Wednesday before launching a public campaign on the state of the district’s finances.
Late Thursday, the district released a budget update and projections on social media. And the materials echoed the same financial doom and gloom that district officials have been predicting since at least last August.
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The way that lawmakers chose to pay for school salaries in an effort to settle the landmark McCleary school-funding case worries the district. Homeowners across Washington saw their state property-tax rates rise earlier this year to fund those salary hikes.
But beginning in January 2019, the state will automatically cap local property-tax levies that districts historically have relied on to cover the difference between their actual spending and the revenue they get from the state.
That tax swap, Seattle school officials project, will result in a nearly $44 million budget shortfall in 2019-20 and more than $68 million two years later.
“To make up the budget shortfall each year, the district will likely have to reduce staffing and look at making cuts to programs,” Seattle Public Schools said in a statement.
Despite the negative long-term projection, the district will have a $45 million surplus this upcoming school year — thanks to the combination of the state property-tax collection increase and the higher local levy rate. The district plans to spend that extra money on raises.