9/26/19 Board Meeting Recap

Agenda-can be found here.

The time was not published on the calendar, and the agenda had the meeting starting at 8:30 am, I did arrive about 8:45am, but when I arrived they were discussing the unexcused absent policy.  I am not sure of exactly what I missed of the meeting, since they were rearranging the agenda to accommodate those who were listed on the agenda.    I do believe I missed the discussion on Policy 6100 regarding “REVENUES FROM LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL SOURCES” found here.  I would encourage those of you interested in the meeting agenda items, to watch for the recording to show up on the website-here.  

I plan to have a couple follow-up blogs about items discussed during this meeting, mainly the need for a new elementary and middle school, so watch for those blog articles in the future.

Policy 3122

The policy can be found here.  The discussion was mainly surrounding what they would count as unexcused absences leading to suspension, and how they would be handling continued unexcused absences.  It is no longer attached to kids who are not attending school(ie home hospital, etc).  They discussed some special circumstances surrounding the policy.  For more information and more of the discussion, please see the video when they publish on the TSD site.

Ballot Measure Discussion

Cory Plager-D A Davidson

It appears DA Davidson was hired to advise the district and board on the types of bonds and levys they could put on the ballot.  He went through the basic types and then talked about application of each one.  The discussion included whether or not they would put together a levy/bond proposal to include both the M&O items and the new school or do one for the M&O and then later ask for the new school.  Below are the slides presented showing the different types of bonds/levys and taxes generated by different types of levys/bonds.

The options available:

The Pros and Cons of a voter approved bond.  The major con they discussed was the super majority.  They would need 60% of the voters to approve, and they have to have at least 40% of the voters who vote in the general election vote on the measure.  A discussion of timing based on which election the school bond would follow.  However, decisions need to be made quickly to get any measure on the February ballot. The filing deadline to do so is December 13, 2019.  

They discussed non-voted bonds.  These have more restrictions and depending on the amount, would require a public hearing.  They discussed using something like this to pay for planning a new elementary school.  

They discussed the success of bonds passing based on having M&O (maintenance and operations) proposals linked to a Capital Project (new construction).  They pointed out that single proposals pass at a lower rate than running multiple proposals at the same time.  I am not sure what their data depicts as far as what areas they encompass:

They also looked at the assessed values in our area.  Notice the upward trend the past few years, with a 7.7 % preliminary growth predicted for our area.  He discussed this possibly being low, since they don’t have all the new construction calculated in.  

The levy that passed a few years ago is set to end, and the funds collected will also decrease.

The tax rate history was also discussed.  The amount TSD has been able to collect in the past was a great deal higher than after the McCleary decision. The “fix” increased the amount from $1.50 to  $2.50, which will start in 2020 and is not depicted on this graph.  Projected collections are in the next slide.

This shows the total increase based on the McCleary Decision fix.

This slide shows the amount collected if they were to put a 2 year proposal together based on different rates.  They are calculating based on a 6% growth (previous slide has a 7.7% growth).  I believe this was a discussion just based on collecting for the maintenance and operations proposal.  

The district has approximately $12 million in maintenance and operations (M&O) costs that they are looking to obtain funds to pay for.   Below is the itemized list of items needing funds:

Each of these items were discussed, student devices include chrome books replacement and new implementation, Staff devices-computers etc will need to be replaced, building and classroom technology.  Also on the list was preplanning and design of a new elementary they discussed how this would be a shortcut to getting the school built faster as this would take a year off the implementation if they ran a separate levy to build a school.  I haven’t looked at the budget approved at the last meeting and am not sure if these are already on the proposed budget or if these are new items.

Superintendent Report 

I will paraphrase his discussion as best as I can.  

He started out with a followup.  He discussed the issued brought up by the PGS staff due to the increased numbers they have experienced this year.  When they first noticed the population growth happening they added another kindergarten teacher and paraeducator positions.  He discussed the strain this puts on the rest of the staff-mainly the counseling staff.  PGS has over 600 students.  The state funds counselors at 1 per 800 student at the elementary level.  Our schools are receiving more than is funded at the state level.  The district feels there is a need and have funded more counselors at the schools.  Adding administrators does take some strain off this need, but is not as good as a counselor.  PGS has a Principal and a full-time Assistant Principal.  They do not have funds to provide another counselor at this time, and they are looking at problem solving in this area.  

Kim asked if the staff from Together which is housed at PGS could offer some services, Sean did say Together does have a site coordinator and that does provide an additional resource.  He did say they were going to look at that option as well to help.

The discussion then turned to the projections at both the elementary and middle level with putting together a bond and/or levy in the near future.  The district is planning on building new elementary school and discussed the possibility of a new middle school.  The slides used in the discussion were put together by Parametrix last year for the Boundary Review Committee.  (I plan to write a blog on this particular topic).  Using these predictions, Sean concluded that “we know we have a need for additional facilities.”  

He discussed the to-do list.  He went through the items on the following slide.  

They discussed the bond to upgrade technology, but mentioned this bond is used up.  So there will be a need to replace and upgrade those devices in the future.  This would be continued implementation to get all the schools to a 1 to 1 ratio on chrome books as well as replacements.  Jim clarified that there is still money in the bond to complete the implementation, but they are going to need to do something to get replacements.  Sean did explain they are looking into the benefit of the  1 to 1 chromebook benefits.  This will be discussed later as they get information about the benefits.  

He discussed the safety upgrades they feel are needed at several of the schools.  Cameras need installation and upgrades, sprinkler systems need installation and upgrade.  Power lines owned by the district need to be replaced.  

If all the projects were to be completed, they would need $12.7 million.  This brought on the discussion of going through with a bond right now to build a school, do you back burner these projects, do you package these with the new school?    A 2 year Capital Levy was discussed to cover these costs instead of running the school bond at this time.  (see slide presentation above).  And then as this expires come back with the bond for the new school.  Trying to keep the tax rate steady.  He discussed putting in the planning for a new school in the capital levy to cut some time off the school being started if they waited to propose the new school levy.  They discussed taking 3 years to get the building built after the bond passes.  The earliest a school being built would be approximately 2024.  

The middle school and high school boundaries were brought up.  Sean did mention that they are trying to address transfer processes before they can go into a secondary boundary adjustment discussion.  They are asking Jim Duggan to again help with the transfer policies both inter district (transfers from other districts) and intra district(transfers within our district).  And in the spring start work on the secondary boundary adjustment discussion with an implementation in the following fall.

They hope to have the transfer policies in place so that families that have been affected by the boundary adjustments can make decisions well in advance.  

Kim brought up her opinion for the need to add a middle school with the elementary also.  (watch for my future blog on this topic).  Trying to keep boundary adjustments off until they add a new middle school.    

It was brought up by Jim that in order to get state funds for a new school you have to have a significant amount of students in portables or you don’t get those funds.  

Mel also brought up that with the enrollment down the state will look at trends, which the last 2 years has been down.  The rest of the board and superintendent seemed to think that this was not the case.  (I plan to discuss this in a future blog).

The discussion led to what they were to propose for the capital levy vs. pairing it with the school bond vs. do nothing.  Kim brought up that if we waited until next year to do the school bond, it would be after a presidential election and therefore would require more voters to validate the vote, which the board or superintendent seemed apprehensive about doing this

Andrea stated she would support the early levy to cover the preplanning of a school.  Rita brought up that this discussion will be a big part of their upcoming budget workshop.  Kim asked to get information on just an elementary school vs an elementary school with a middle school.    

Sean did mention that they would also be looking at what type of bond/levy the board would support.  Rita asked for a prioritized list.

Another elementary and high school were also brought up as possibilities for future.

Some fun facts with numbers in the district presented by the Superintendent:

90.5 -the percentage of the school year remaining.

15,250 – the number of meals prepared by food services each week.

83.1 – percentage of students who averaged fewer than 2 absences a month.

10 – the percentage of instruction missed by students having more than 2 absences a moth.

Board Member Comments

Kim Reykdal

Thanked the EOE principal for being the first to participate in the new system the board is trying out, where they meet with the principal in a work session to get information on the work they are doing.  She has been enjoying watching her daughter play soccer at the middle school. Praised TMS for their fundraising, $20K raised.  She is headed to Spokane for Leg. Assembly to discuss WASDA’s legislative priorities for the coming year.  

Andrea McGhee

She met with the PGS Principal and the counselors to discuss what a day in the life of a school administrator is like.  She met with a couple parent leaders to listen to them about what is happening in their schools.  She attended the Together breakfast.  She thanked Khalia for her time on the board.  She thanked Sean for his efforts.  

Rita Luce

She discussed her previous time at “Leg.” She stopped by PGS.  She also praised the new process meeting with the principal beforehand.  

Melissa Beard (not present)

Khalia Davis (not present, resignation effective 9/25/19).

As always I would encourage you to watch for the video to be posted for those of you to watch as I am sure I missed some items.   We welcome comments, questions and suggestions, just email us as contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Also, if you have comments or questions specific to items discussed, please email the board members.

Your school board representatives:

District 1

Rita Luce:  rita.luce@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 2

Kim Reeykdal:  kim.reykdal@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 3

Andrea McGhee:  andrea.mcghee@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 4

Melissa Beard: melissa.beard@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 5: Vacant

Budget Workshop Part 3-Some Specific Changes

This is the 3rd and final installment of my budget workshop series.  Part 1 was a short entry where I commended the TSD Board for engaging in productive and informative discussions regarding the budget.  In Part 2, I outlined some “big picture” concepts, some which represent a change of course, when it comes to how TSD is approaching the 2019/20 budget.  In this installment, I delve into a few specifics.  As a reminder, the TSD Board engaged in an depth discussion about the budget as part of a budget workshop on August 8, 2019.  Video of the workshop is on the TSD website and can be found here.   

TSD STAFF DECREASES

Salaries and benefits account for over 80% of the approximately $92 million($92MM) in expenses budgeted by TSD.  According to TSD, teachers account for about $40MM, while classified staff is another $16MM.  Employee benefits are roughly another $22MM.  TSD tried to reduce its expenditures by about $5MM this year.   When 80% of your budget is staff related costs, it is difficult to make any significant reductions without substantial reductions in staff costs. 

Accordingly,  TSD budgeted to Hold/Eliminate several non-teacher positions.  These include: 25 paraprofessionals, 3 maintenance, 1 Fiscal, 1 Human resources, 3 TOSA(teachers on Special Assignment—now being sent  back to the classroom) and 1 Technology position. It is possible these cuts can be adjusted in some regard.  The most impactful cut is likely the elimination of 25 paraprofessional positions.   

Paraprofessionals are a great resource for TSD as they provide classroom assistance to teachers, and in some cases can fulfill student/teacher ratios in overcrowded classrooms. They are not required to be certificated teachers, and are paid at a significantly lower rate than teachers.  Notably, the TEA/TSD contract, like most teacher contracts, actually requires paraprofessional assistance in the classroom in some cases(usually when classes are at impact–overcrowded).  Teachers can generally opt for increased compensation or paraprofessional assistance when classrooms are at impact.  

Frankly, TEA pulled off a pretty big victory on this one as TSD did not eliminate any certificated teaching positions.  The TSD/TEA contract requires TSD to send out notices of potential layoffs  to individual teachers no later than May 15th, and TSD opted not to send out any such notices.  Therefore, it was compelled to renew all teachers contracts.  Notably, the decision to lay off teachers did not have to be made by May 15th.  TSD simply had to notify teachers by May 15th if there was a possibility their individual contracts would not be renewed. 

From a budgeting perspective, this seems a little out of whack as certificated teachers are by far the biggest overall cost in the total budget.  It does not take much financial wherewithal to realize having your largest expense “untouchable” when drastic cuts are needed is not ideal.  To be fair, the decision was made before Superintendent Dotson started.  Highlighting the error was the fact that TSD learned shortly after the May 15th deadline had passed that it was going to get about $2 million less in hold harmless funds than it had already projected receiving, thereby necessitating even deeper cuts.  Here is the link to a blog I did on that decision back in May.  

It seems to me the prudent thing to do would have been to notify a dozen or so teachers that their spots might be eliminated, just to keep its options open.  TSD could have then opted to renew the contracts prior to the school year—once it had a better understanding of the status of the budget.   

I took issue with this move at the time as the decision to not even send notices eliminated the potential cost saving measure.  I am not saying teaching positions should have been eliminated, but there is no excuse for making such a consideration impossible knowing $3MM(which turned out to be $5MM) or so needed to be cut from the budget.  What ended up happening is that TSD scrambled to reduce the budget and was left with having to make all the staff cuts with Administrative and paraprofessional employees.   

In hindsight, this was even more problematic as, even with the cuts, TSD projects it will have a deficit of $1.8MM during 2019/20.

I would hope TSD will be a little more prudent during the upcoming year and at least send out notices if there is $3MM or so that needs to be cut from the budget.  Once again, the notices simply provide an option, and TSD could ultimately opt not to complete the layoffs.

TSD IS USING CAPITAL PROJECTS FUNDS TO PAY SOME SALARIES

Levies and bonds approved by voters can only be used for specified purposes.  Traditionally, TSD bond money has gone to Capital projects(maintenance, construction and improvement of infrastructure), and has not been used for salaries to any significant degree. 

TSD has broken with that tradition and will now pay some staff costs from the bond funds.  The effect is that TSD is going to shift about $750,000 from Capital projects, and instead use the $750,000 to pay salaries for those working on Capital projects.  This is a tactic being used by many school districts under the new funding model.  The theory being that funding the employees working on the capital projects is an allowable use of the bonds voters designated to be devoted to Capital projects.  I am unaware of any provisions within the law, or the bonds, that suggests this tact is not allowed.  

Of course, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  The reaction in this instance is that there will be $750,000 less to spend on Capital projects.  I am unclear on how this will actually impact the Capital projects and may take that up in another blog.  Notably at recent meetings, the Board asked probing questions regarding “what is not going to be built/maintained/improved.”  I also imagine this will be part of the discussion the next time voters are asked to approve a bond.   Maybe voters do not care, maybe they want money spent on salaries, etc.    

DESPITE THE NEGATIVE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES, TSD CONTINUES TO SEEK INCREASED ENROLLMENT 

One concern I continue to have is the expressed sentiment that we need, or desire, more students.  This is illogical to me.  I often hear the Board and administrators make comments like ”we hope enrollment increases.”  TSD should serve the students it has, and budget accordingly.   This sentiment appears to be based on a(1) a lack of recognition that increased enrollment actually increases the deficit, and (2) a desire to save as many jobs as possible, regardless of the economics.   

As I have pointed out, on a cost per student basis, the more students TSD has, the larger the budget deficit becomes.  The state is not giving TSD enough money for basic education. In general terms, TSD receives about $9,000 per student per year from the State under the current funding model, but it costs just over $11,000 to educate each student according to TSD’s budget.  In simple terms, the state is shorting TSD about $2000 per student and TSD has to go find that money somewhere else.  Here is a link to a blog that delves into the topic a little deeper.  

TSD currently fills the gap with a combination of levy money and dipping into the savings account.  Dipping into the savings account is not sustainable, and using levy funds is risky, especially given the fact the levy expires in 2020 and is dependent on voter approval of a new levy.       

Of course, TSD must educate the students who live within the TSD boundaries, and come up with a budget that does so.  However, TSD controls how many out of district students it enrolls.  As has been noted in the past, TSD has a disproportionate number of out district students(see blog here), for which it receives no levy money(those funds stay in the student’s resident district), thus creating an even greater financial burden  The deficit with Out of District students is probably closer to $3500 per student.  Either way, increased enrollment is a financial loss.   The TSD leadership’s desire for increased enrollment is contrary to basic economics. 

I believe the desire for increased enrollment is rooted in a “we need to save jobs at all costs” mentality.  I am not in favor of anyone losing his or her job, but staffing to demand is an economic reality of any responsible operation, including schools districts.  

Staff costs account for well over 80% of the budget.  In order to budget appropriately, fewer students creates a need to budget down, which inevitably will include fewer employees.  TSD reduced staff significantly over the last year, and still projects to run at a $1.8MM deficit. 

TSD has been reluctant to reduce certificated teachers.  TSD needs to appreciate the reality that it must operate within it means.  While there is no desire to have anyone lose a job, TSD should budget to reality, and not to some optimistic hope that enrollment is increased. This is especially true given the fact that we are educating students at a financial loss and more students increases the deficit.  

I think TSD should look to be the best, not the biggest.  I am confused as to the mindset of those who “hope enrollment increases” and/or seek to have a liberal policy when it comes to accepting out of district transfers.  Those individuals appear disinclined to accept the reality that the budget issues are not an enrollment problem, and, at least under the current funding model, increased enrollment actually exacerbates the budget deficiencies.      

STRATEGIC ACCEPTANCE OF INTERDISTRICT TRANSFER STUDENTS

 I had a discussion with Superintendent Dotson a while back wherein he indicated he felt IDT students could help with the budget to the extent TSD strategically accepted, and placed, those students.  This would be a welcome change of course as some schools(especially THS) choose to accept IDT student independent, and well in advance of any planning. 

During prior years, TSD did very little planning with respect to enrollment of IDT students.  My experience is that TSD accepts IDT students well in advance of having any ability to strategically place student with budget considerations in mind. Superintendent Dotson confirmed that he is hopeful, and will attempt to implement a plan, that monitors IDT students in a better fashion.  I have a public records request into TSD and will report back about the IDT student numbers for 2019/20. 

IDT students should be welcomed if, and where, there is capacity, but should not displace resident students.  I am hopeful that, unlike the prior administration, the new administration will take the needs of resident students into account as the primary determination with respect to IDT students.  

CONCLUSION

I only covered a few topics, which I thought might be of the most interest. In my view, the current TSD Board is much more engaged, and transparent, which allows more insight into the decision making process.  I will continue to blog about financial(and other) matters.  As always, we welcome your feedback.