Revisited-Why Change School Boundaries?

3/22/19

During the School Board Meeting  on 3/14/19, in the Superintendent Report, it was mentioned that we would likely need a new elementary school.  Since that meeting, I have spent some time looking at the data again trying to understand why it would be proposed that we would need another elementary school in the future. 

TSD spent a great deal of resources in hiring an outside firm to analyze the area and it’s potential future growth.  From that firm’s projections, it could be argued that building a new elementary is not the most financially prudent plan.  A new school would cost tens of millions of dollars and much of the burden would fall on the Tumwater School District residents.  The enrollment projections through 2040 (3800-4000) are well within the capacities of our schools (4225) as presently used. 

Holding off on building a new school would likely result in continued use of portables, in addition to some boundary changes.   While it can be argued that the use of portables is not ideal, that would need to be balanced with the best use of the funds that would be required to build a new school. 

The growth peaks at around the year 2030 and then starts to decline.  This could be interpreted to mean that the use of portables use would be temporary while TSD gets through the peak in enrollment, thus saving the taxpayers millions of dollars and avoiding having to close, or at the very least under utilize, schools in the future due to low enrollment. 

See the excerpt below from my previous blog on the topic:

Click here for the full Blog on the boundary changes 

Projected Enrollment:

“At the peak of the graph (around 2030) the total elementary enrollment should be around 3775-4000.  Looking at the total capacity for TSD elementary schools(assuming no use of portables) capacity in elementary schools is 3050.  However, if portables were to be used capacity would be 4225.  Notably, enrollment is projected to peak around 2030, with a slight downward trend thereafter. “

“If TSD can operate within its capacity over the next decade, which may involve another boundary adjustment, a good argument could made that spending millions of dollars on a new elementary school is not necessary.  Another piece of the puzzle that was not discussed, was the number of interdistrict students(students not living in the TSD boundaries) TSD enrolls.  From the numbers the committee were given, our elementary schools have a total of 85 interdistrict students.  That number doesn’t seem to significantly change enrollment.  However, TSD may be put into a position of being very selective when deciding whether or not to accept interdistrict kids at the elementary school level.”

Building Capacities:

As always we welcome comments and suggestions.  Click here to email us.

BUDGET UPDATE WITH INFO FROM TEA AND TSD


I sat down with Elizabeth Collins, the UniServ WEA Chinook representative for TEA. Elizabeth was very cordial, provided some useful information and engaged in a candid discussion about TEA’s position on a couple issues. In addition, there were some budgetary topics discussed at the most recent Board meeting on March 14, 2019.  As promised, and with the hope of creating productive dialogue, I am updating the blog with some of the information I learned during the meetings.

The positions of TEA and TSD have not changed much over the last few months.  TSD contends that it will operate at a deficit of somewhere between $4 million and $6 million over the course of the next 12 months, with a similar deficit next year absent significant cuts.  TEA believes there will likely be no deficit, and any deficit will be of a size that could be absorbed by cuts to non-essential programs. 

I have tried to provide some perspective from both TEA and TSD, along with a little bit of commentary below:

1.TEA believes TSD routinely builds in extra “budget capacity” and overplays a “the sky is falling” message. TEA’s argument is that TSD’s contention regarding a significant deficit is overstated, and likely wholly inaccurate. To support this claim, Elizabeth pointed me to the F195 and F196 documents on the OSPI website.

The F195 is a projected budget that TSD, like all other districts, provides to OSPI each year. The F196 is a report produced by OSPI which shows the actual income received, and expenses paid, during the fiscal year. Think of the F195 as TSD’s forecast of what the future holds, while the F196 is the reconciliation of TSD’s checkbook ledger at the end of the year. In simple terms, TEA thinks TSD is forecasting expenses it will not incur, thus implying that the financial peril is overstated by TSD.

TSD’s fiscal year tracks the school year(September to August). So, I pulled the F195 and F196 for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 school years to compare the budgeted(F195) and actual(196) expenditures.   Here are the links.  The documents are long(about 70 pages or so, but the pertinent information is summarized in the first 10 pages or so).  

2016-17 F195(budget).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1617/34033195.pdf

2016-17F196(actual).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1617/34033196.pdf

2017-18 F195(budget).   http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1718/34033195.pdf

2017-18 F196(actual).  http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/rep/fin/1718/34033196.pdf


My general conclusion is that TSD does generally build in budget capacity.  The 17/18 projected expenses were about about $1.5 million greater than what was actually expended.  This is relatively consistent with the historical budgets TSD has presented.  With an $85 million dollar budget, the difference was about a 2% variance from the projections. While school district budgets are pretty predictable, which reduces the expected variance, TSD’s actual expenditures are pretty close to what it budgeted.

That being said, there are some large variances in specific categories. Notably, Regular Instruction and Support Services each had a variance of over $2 million—in opposite directions on a year to year basis. At that end of the day, the variances in those two categories pretty much offset each other, with the bottom line being a “wash.”   

It is possible there are some line items within the budget that could possibly be warrant further discussion. However, I deal with a lot of budgets, and rarely do I see a forecast budget fall within 5% of the actual year end income/expenses.  My conclusion is that there is some merit to TEA’s contention, but that TSD’s practice of building some capacity is not overly concerning in and of itself.  The pivot point on this topic is what is TSD doing with the money it budgets, but does not spend(see below).  

2.The TSD General Fund Balance has increased over the last few years.

As noted above, over the last 2 years TSD budgeted about $1-1.5 million more than it actually spent. Interestingly, TSD’s general fund balance(which is really just the savings account or rainy day fund) also increased about $1 million.  So, not surprisingly, TSD is saving some of the money, and spending some of the money.  A good analogy would be a household budget.  When unplanned income comes in the door, it is not uncommon to spend some of the money and save some of the money.  TSD is saving some of the money as the general fund balance has increased the last few years up until January, 2019. TSD is also spending some of the money.   

TSD’s contention(which I believe is correct) is that, as a result of the loss in levy funds, it will have to dip into savings to the tune of about $4 million over the next 6 months to meet the expenses in the 2018-19 budget.  TEA contends TSD will not have to do so. To date the levy payment have not changed.  However, the payments in 2019 will be significantly less.  I went through this in depth as part of a prior blog which can be reviewed by clicking here.   The truth is that we are all making educated guesses at this point and really will have no definitive answers until this summer.  

TEA contends the additional basic education funding makes up for the loss in local levy funds, and TSD has enough income to meet its expenses, and therefore should not need to access the general fund to meet budgeted items.  In the event TSD does not have sufficient funds to meet its budgeted items, TEA would point to the increased general fund balance and argue that TSD should use the funds it has saved to make up any shortfall.  TEA also points out that TSD generally finds money to cover unexpected or non-budgeted expenses.  

Interestingly, the amount, or lack thereof, of TSD’s deficit the next 6 months will be a pretty good indicator of the deficit likely to occur in 2019-20.  

3. 2018-19 is in the rear view mirror, so any corrections really involve the 2019-20 budget. 

At the most recent Board Meeting, Superintendent Bash indicated the Board has directed him to present a balanced budget, meaning the projected expenses can be no more than the projected income during 2019-20.  It is too late to take any substantive action for 2018-19(where TSD projects at least a $4 million deficit), so, due to the mandate to develop a balanced budget, TSD is looking at all options for 2019-20.

A complicating component is that it is possible the legislature will bridge the gap, and provide additional funding.  However, TSD is required as part of the collective bargaining agreement to notify affected employees of any cuts no later than May 15th.   It is quite possible that on May 15th we will not know if the legislature is going to provide relief.  Accordingly, TSD feels compelled to put together a “worst case” scenario(which assumes no additional funding) coupled with a restoration plan(in the event some additional funding comes to fruition.

Understandably, TEA is concerned about providing notice of cuts to staff absent an actual need to make the cuts.  Doing so certainly hurts morale.  In addition, staff who are unsure of their position with TSD may find another job over the course of the summer when TSD may actually end up having a spot available.  It is clear to me that TSD would much prefer not to provide notice of cuts unless the cuts actually have to be made, especially given the strained relations resulting from the events of last summer and fall. However, TSD is in somewhat of a “Catch 22” as the notices have to go out by May 15th.  If TSD fails to provide notice of the staff reductions, then those expenses will be part of the actual expenses in 2019-20, which would create a huge deficit if TSD’s projections are even close to what actually happens.    

4.How does the worst case scenario compare to the present?

It appears everything is up for discussion except Core Education(English, Math, etc), which is pretty much untouchable.  Among other steps, Superintendent Bash indicated that TSD is meeting with administrative staff to discuss possible reductions across the board(excluding Core Education), trying to come up with some prioritization, depending on how deep the cuts need to go.  

There have been very few details provided publicly about the cuts.  TSD has indicated that it projects significant administrative cuts, and has unequivocally stated that staff cuts will be necessary.   As noted in the most recent Board meeting, proposed position reductions will need to occur.  These will include administration, operations and school staff.  Once again, in most cases, notifications must be sent out by May 15th.    

Notably, the most recent Board meeting(3/14/2018–a recap of which can be linked here) was unusually well attended, primarily as a result of TSD recently notifying some library and technology certified specialist staff that they may be moved back to the classroom, with non certified staff filling the library and technology positions.   The Board meeting was standing room only, with several people showing up to provide public comment.   

At present, it is difficult to determine the cuts TSD intends to project.  My impression is that most of the “cuts” discussion has occurred at the TSD administration level, including principals and building representatives.  I imagine once word gets out about the proposed cuts, individuals in the community will then be able to really state their priorities.  In an ideal world, the stakeholders would meet together to discuss priorities, and potential cuts.  I suggested this concept at the most recent Board meeting, which appeared to be well received by the Board and community members.  However, when I have pitched the idea to TSD and TEA, for varying reasons, each appear unwilling to engage in such a discussion.  In any event, I am hopeful the TSD Board will allow for in depth community input after any proposals become known.  

5.Some good news, TSD and TEA actually are working hard to try and come up with some funding

TEA and TSD, along with many members of the community, have been actively involved in lobbying legislators to mitigate the fiscal problems to some degree.  There are a couple proposals before the legislature that would provide relief.  The “Levy Fix” would provide an additional $6-8 million to TSD without any additional cost to local taxpayers.  in addition, there were a couple proposals that would increase the basic education funding.  At last check the bills were having a tough time getting out of committee.  I would encourage individuals to contact legislators and have your voice heard.  

Lastly, the TSD Board is a volunteer group of leaders who serve our community, and devote countless hours each year to the Tumwater community.  The TSD Board is charged with the final say in budgetary decisions.  I know they want to hear from all those interested before undertaking the task of coming up with a budget, especially one that is likely to involve undesirable cuts.  If you want your voice heard, I would encourage you to contact the TSD School Board–emails below.  

khalia.davis@tumwater.k12.wa.us

melissa.beard@tumwater.k12.wa.us

jay.wood@tumwater.k12.wa.us

kim.reykdal@tumwater.k12.wa.us

rita.luce@tumwater.k12.wa.us

As always, we welcome comments and input from the community.  We are also looking for guest bloggers.  You can contact me at scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

How does Tumwater’s Out of District population compare with other Districts

In a prior blog, I discussed the budget impact of interdistrict transfer(IDT) students(click here for blog).  I felt the next logical step was to determine the quantum of IDT students in Tumwater, especially in comparison to other districts.  I set out to determine how Tumwater(TSD) compares to North Thurston(NTPS) and Olympia(OSD) School Districts.  Through a series of public records requests, I was able to piece together a summary showing how many IDT students in these three districts are attending schools outside their home boundaries.  See chart below.  “Transfer IN” are those students coming into a District, while “Transfer Out” are those student exiting a District.  

****The chart does not include students at Avanti, New Market(NMHS) or Secondary Options(SO) as the Districts have cooperative agreements regarding placements into those schools and they appear to be generally not subject to IDT policies.  

TSD ACCEPTS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE IDT STUDENTS THAN SURROUNDING DISTRICTS

As a reminder, an IDT student is any student who does not reside within the District boundaries. Just to be clear, I did not include Interzone transfers, which are those students who do not attend their home school, but do attend a school within their home school district’s boundaries(i.e a student who lives in Peter G boundaries, but attends Black Lake).  

As you can see, just under 6% of TSD’s students do not reside within TSD Boundaries.  This is about double that of OSD, and about 8X that of NTPS.  Notably, TSD has a Net Gain of 178 students when comparing the Transfer IN vs. the Transfer OUT categories.  My initial conclusion is that TSD accepts significantly more IDT students than NTPS and OSD, especially when considering overall enrollment.  

TUMWATER HIGH SCHOOL ACCEPTS IDT STUDENTS AT A RATE THAT IS NOT COMPARABLE WITH ANY OTHER SCHOOL.

The data for individual TSD schools is as follows:  

The horizontal line at the top of the chart is where the students are coming from.  The vertical line on the left is where those students attend in TSD.  Notably, the IDT population is in the 3% to 6% range for all TSD schools except THS.  Tumwater High School is a statistical outlier when compared to other TSD schools as over 15% of students at THS do not reside within the TSD boundaries. 

Further, the first chart above shows the IDT rate for all seven high schools in TSD, OSD and NTPS.  THS far outpaces IDT enrollment when compared to the other high schools.  In fact, the rate of IDT students at THS more than doubles the rate of its nearest competitor(Capital High at 7%). 

THS accepts disproportionately more IDT students when compared to the other schools.  

TSD’S POLICIES WITH RESPECT TO IDT STUDENTS APPEAR TO BE APPLIED IN AN INCONSISTENT MANNER

TSD’s primary interdistrict transfer policy, which is set forth in a document labelled Procedure 3141 is somewhat vague, and contains relatively loose guidelines.  However, that policy is supplemented with Procedure 3141P, which sets forth strict prerequisites that must be considered with transfer students—the primary one being how accepting the IDT students impacts TSD resident students.   

The policy requires the superintendent to designate schools with capacity . . . space must be available in the school, grade, class and/or program requested.  The policy also requires TSD to post this information on the TSD website.  I am unaware of such information being posted and am a little confused as to the current process.  I have placed an email to TSD to see if I can get clarification.  

Further, the policy also requires TSD to notify applicant families within 45 days of receipt of the applications.  My understanding is that TSD schools start accepting applications in January/February.  Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with the scheduling/placement process, but it would difficult to accurately determine capacity(and enrollment) six months in advance.  A strict reading of the policy leads one to believe no TSD resident students are being adversely affected with the acceptance of IDT students.  

I do not believe that is the case.  Nearly 20% of the elementary classrooms in TSD are at impact levels.  In addition, many of the high schools classes are overcrowded.  I will not get into examples here, but at the most recent board meeting the Tumwater representative student indicated one her classes had 40 students where there were not enough desks for all the students and she also mentioned the Calculus class where some students were forced to travel to BHHS during that hour.  

In speaking with several principals and the TSD administrative staff, my understanding is that the principals are charged with making the decisions for their own building.  This seems inconsistent with the stated policy.     

THERE ARE MANY POLICY CONSIDERATIONS IN DETERMINING THE ACCEPTANCE OF IDT STUDENTS

From a financial perspective, at least with the current funding model, there can be no dispute that acceptance of IDT students (1) results in an increased deficit and (2) also generally reduces the funds available for the TSD resident students .  For a more in depth discussion on the budgetary impact of IDT students, please click here to visit my prior blog.  

From a policy perspective, there are non-financial considerations for and against accepting IDT students.  Among them, increasing the student population presumably results in broader diversity, more options with respect academic and extra curricular opportunities and a more competitive environment.  The counter argument is that there are only so many spots to go around and TSD resident students are denied opportunities when spots are filled by IDT students(in classrooms and extracurricular activities). The above certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the pros and cons.  

Ultimately, like most policy determinations, the TSD Board is charged with making the ultimate decision and providing the desired guidelines.  I think TSD could do better in this area.   

COMMENTARY

IDT students have traditionally been an integral and valued part of the THS culture and it is not feasible, and I would argue not desired, to completely reject all IDT students.  I would submit that TSD should come up with a comprehensive and well thought out policy regarding IDT transfers.  The current policy is inadequate and results in a lack of predictability and consistency.  At the very least, I would expect the policy consider the following:

1. Offer some priority to children of TSD Staff;

2. Pursuant to the current policy, set some specific parameters with respect to classroom capacity/placement (i.e. placement/schedules are done for resident students in advance of accepting IDT students to ensure no resident student is displaced);

3.  Limit new IDT students significantly under the present funding model unless TSD can show minimal negative impact for resident students;

4.  Limit acceptance of IDT students until all Interzone transfers have been considered;

5. Where IDT spots are available, create come criteria and priority so there is balance and consistency from school to school.   

6. Appreciate a nominal number of IDT applicants present circumstances with overriding factors, and should be accepted regardless of the stated criteria

I hope this information is helpful and creates what I believe is a much needed discussion.  As always, we appreciate feedback, and also invite others to write guest blogs in the event you are so inclined.  scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com