Everett officials blame the school budget shortfall on the McCleary decision for reducing the amount school districts can collect in levies and for not fully funding special education.
Everett Public Schools said it expects to make budget cuts next year, becoming the latest administration to appeal to state lawmakers for more money after raising teacher salaries.
The district expects to cut $6.5 million from next year’s budget, a number that will continue to rise for the following two years, according to an emailed statement on Wednesday. The projected decline in spending next year represents 2 percent of the district’s total budget.
The district blamed the state’s new K-12 budget, passed in an attempt to settle the landmark McCleary school-funding lawsuit. As part of the 2017-2019 budget, lawmakers raised statewide property taxes last year to comply with McCleary, a Washington Supreme Court ruling that required the state to fully fund a basic education.
But lawmakers also chose to offset those tax hikes with a cut to the local property taxes that school districts can collect.
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Everett Public Schools blamed that so-called tax swap — and the underfunding of programs like special education — for its future financial woes. Earlier this year, lawmakers injected an additional $1 billion into local schools, which teachers demanded be used to boost their salaries. Districts across the state, some facing the threat of teacher walkouts, agreed to negotiate higher pay for their educators — leaving many with projected budget shortfalls that may require future cuts or layoffs.
Public-school administrators in Seattle and Tacoma have already announced similar plans for reduced spending.
“It’s entirely up to legislative action,” said Jeff Moore, who’s in charge of the Everett Public Schools budget as the executive director of finance and business services, in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve been here before. This is not a crisis, but the years after are what may be challenging. We’re hopeful the legislature is aware and they respond in January with a quick fix.”
This summer, Everett Public Schools agreed to a 20-percent pay hike for teachers with its McCleary money. It continues to pay the highest teacher salaries in the state.
The budget cuts will likely be accomplished through attrition. The district does not expect to replace staff who retire or leave next year, Moore said.
The following school year, the school district expects to cut an additional $11.5 million and could be $23 million in debt by the end of 2022, the district said.
Moore said the district is planning for “the worst case scenario,” but that cuts will “minimally affect” classrooms and programming. The cuts won’t happen if the state modifies the levy cap from $1,500 per student to the voter-approved $2,500, he said.