Federal funding, state bill may help with school budget shortfall | News

Leaders at Anacortes School District are watching to see whether the Legislature will make some changes that could help the district’s financial situation for the next school year.

A new bill would allow for the district to use its 2019-20 enrollment numbers when it comes to both state funding and tax levy dollars coming in. That would be a big jump for the district over the numbers for 2020-21, Finance and Operations Director Dave Cram said at a school board meeting last week.

“There’s a lot of action and activity going on in Olympia right now,” Cram said.

Enrollment is down this year as people chose to homeschool or switched schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines in place, Cram said. Lower numbers are true in Anacortes and most districts across the state, he said.

Since enrollment affects funding levels, the district will lose about $1.7 million in state funding and 167,000 in levy funding without legislative action. 

An additional $676,000 must toward contractual salary and benefit increases.

The district previously dropped below its goal in its fund balance to help pay for extra expenses, but is hoping to build it back up in coming years, Cram said.

If it stays on track with the other reductions, the district would need to make up roughly $2.7 million.

Many districts are facing much larger financial hardships, he said.

Things are already looking up for Anacortes because of relief funding from the federal government, Cram said. The state received $2.6 million to help aid schools. Anacortes received $252,000 and is expecting another $975,000.

That money will go toward expenses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including opening the ASD@Home virtual school and lost revenue from transportation, food services and enrollment.

However, the relief funding cannot be used to pay staff, according to Superintendent Justin Irish.

The district is looking for more funding that could help cover the budget shortfall, Cram said.

In other financial news, the district made its final payment to the general contractor for the Anacortes High School construction project. It now will pay off bonds it took out to cover the cost of a settlement that resulted from delays to project construction.

The bonds should be paid off by June 2031.