Issaquah schools budget set to receive slight boost

August 18, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: August 18, 1:15 p.m.

The Issaquah School District will receive an additional $5.4 million from the state government, which equates to revenue growth of less than 1 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

Public school districts and the state Legislature continue to battle over the McCleary decision from 2012, which said lawmakers weren’t fully funding basic education costs, and called for them to rectify the situation.

The state increased funding by about $1 billion for its 2013-15 biennial budget, but that isn’t quite cutting it when it comes to meeting the requirements of the McCleary decision, school officials believe.

“Though a billion dollars sounds like a lot, when you split it over two years and divide it by 295 school districts, you see it translates to a rather minute increase in the proportion of state revenue,” said Jake Kuper, the Issaquah district’s chief of finance and operations.

The district held a public hearing on the annual budget at the Aug. 13 school board meeting. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget Aug. 27.

State money, as a percentage of the district’s total revenues, are still substantially lower than the 2008-09 school year, when the national recession yet. Issaquah will get $118.9 million – nearly 62 percent of its income – from the state in 2014-15, but that’s down from 68 percent six years ago.

And while the $5.4 million increase is welcome, much of that will simply help the district keep pace with projected enrollment growth. Officials expect an additional 325 students in the coming year.

“It’s not all just magic new money,” school board member Suzanne Weaver said.

Officials said one of the major reasons Issaquah continues to have stable budgets is the decision to keep relatively low administrative costs. Issaquah devotes a smaller percentage of its budget to administrators than any King County school district – the county average is 11.3 percent, while Issaquah’s would be 8.7 percent in the coming year, if the budget is approved as written.

Part of that, Kuper noted, is the district’s decision to create a longer school day for secondary schools. The state is mandating a shift to 1,080 instructional hours per year by 2015-16, but because the mandate is already being funded, Issaquah officials chose to implement it a year earlier.

High-school and middle-school students will stay in classes 45 minutes longer each Wednesday in the coming year.

The school day is lengthening, which increases the district’s expenses, but there won’t be any more administrators to accompany the change.

Superintendent Ron Thiele said officials have “thoughtful” conversations about administrative levels each year, and it’s important to not overwork existing employees.

“It’s not always as easy as, we added more kids, so we have to add more administrators,” Thiele said.

“Frankly, we’ve even struggled a little bit to find space for people,” he said, noting the district added more portable offices last year at the administrative building. “If we’re going to hire anybody, we better have a place to put them.”

One bright spot for the district in terms of state funding is a large boost in transportation dollars.

Historically, Kuper said, schools have received about half of their annual transportation costs from the state. In 2014-15, however, the state will fund 88 percent – about $6.5 million of Issaquah’s $7.3 million outlay.

“That is about as good as we can expect,” Kuper told the board.

Issaquah will lose about $275,000 in federal Title I funds – money that goes to low-income schools – although the district isn’t highly dependent on those dollars.

The district is expecting a small bump in revenue through tuition and fees as more families use before- and after-school care programs. About 1,600 children were served in the past year.

To help with additional students, the district is expecting to hire 32 new classroom teachers, six new special-education teachers, and invest in more custodial staff. The district’s square footage has grown because of modernization efforts at Liberty High School, and Apollo and Issaquah Valley elementary schools.

“It’s important to bring those services back up to where they were before the recession,” Kuper said of custodial services.

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