This blog is just a quick recap of some highlights from the December 12, 2019 Board Meeting. When doing these updates, I generally only cover the action items(which is a minority portion of the meeting). The full audio recording can be found here.
CONSENT AGENDA APPROVED
As it routinely, does, the Board approved the “Consent Agenda.” Frankly, I am unclear as to the process with the Consent Agenda. The items are never discussed during the meeting, but do appear on the approved minutes. The content is mostly employee changes and general financial data. I plan to do some investigation and will provide clarification in a later blog.
THREE NEW MEMBERS SWORN IN
The Board welcomed Casey Taylor, Scott Killough and Darby Kaikkonen as Directors. They join Rita Luce(joined 2005) and Melissa Beard(joined 2016).
SECONDARY OPTIONS RENAMED
Mel Murray led a committee to make recommendations to the Board regarding renaming the school and building formerly known as Secondary Options. As recommended by the committee, the Board approved naming the building THE TUMWATER LEARNING CENTER and renaming the school CASCADIA HIGH SCHOOL.
That was it for action items, but there were some interesting reports. . .
Mel Murray seems to be a great asset for TSD. He has a wealth of knowledge, manages multiple projects at the time, and is really good at providing simple and understandable information without oversharing. Nothing overly groundbreaking in Mel’s report, but he did share a slide showing the vacant property TSD currently owns. I thought it was worth sharing.
The Board did spend 45 minutes or so talking about budget issues. Jim Brittain and Sean Dotson did most of the talking, while the Board members asked questions and sought insight about some of the difficult financial decisions the Board must make over the course of the next few months or so. As many of you know, I have been critical of the Board in the past due to what I perceive as a lack of interest in the financial matters of TSD. This meeting was refreshing, and I hope the discussions continue.
As a reminder, the projected deficit during the 2019/20 school year is about $2.5 million, meaning TSD budgeted to spend about $2.5 million more than it will receive in income. Compounding the financial difficulties, as part of the budget crisis last year, the Board approved a resolution where the minimum Fund Balance(TSD’s Savings account) was set at 4% of the total budget(about $90 million). Here is a chart showing the historical level of the fund balance. Note the current fund balance is several million dollars less than prior years.
In essence, TSD must have about $3.5 million in savings at the end of each year. Sean advised the Board that, without significant and immediate reductions in spending, it is highly likely the fund balance will be less than $3.5 million at the end of the 2019/20 school year, and most certainly will dip below that level during the first few months of 2020.
The Board discussed some priorities, but appeared unwilling to direct Sean to make substantive reductions at present. It sounded like Sean is going to come back to the next meeting with some options for consideration by the Board.
Because TSD started with a much lower fund balance from a historical perspective, it does not have the luxury of running at a deficit in the upcoming years. Unless there are additional funding resources, TSD will need to cut at least a few million dollars from its budget just to break even next year.
Last year, the Board did not take action until it was much too late and the options became limited. The Board continually deferred any decisions with the hope that TSD would have an enrollment upswing, or the Legislature would provide more funding, neither of which occurred. With the Superintendent change, and three new Board members, I am hopeful this Board will be more proactive. Difficult and undesirable action is inevitable and it is my hope they get to the discussion promptly.
Enrollment continues to be a “hot” topic at the Board meetings. Enrollment at TSD has consistently decreased over the last 2 years, and appears to be on a pretty level trend. TSD’s enrollment currently sits at the same level as 2015/16. Notably, enrollment traditionally decreases throughout the year. Here is a chart showing enrollment numbers since 2013.
Enrollment is one of the most crucial components of the budget as virtually all of the state funding is tied to the number of students enrolled(Enrollment does not affect levy funds as TSD gets the same amount of levy money regardless of enrollment).
I am curious about the staffing levels at TSD. Like many operations, TSD largest expense is staff costs(well over 70% of the budget). It is difficult to make substantive changes to the budget without considering staff expenditures. TSD will have to navigate this very trick terrain in the upcoming months. I wonder if the staffing levels are closer to 2017/18 levels(when enrollment was at 6800) or in line with 2015/16 levels(when enrollment was where it sits today—about 6500). I plan to do a blog on the topic within the next month or so.
Sean’s reports are pretty direct. His primary focus was seeking some clarity from the Board as to what they wanted him(and TSD) to focus on during the next legislative session. Sean suggested that TSD should try to focus on the same topics as statewide organizations(OSPI, WASDA, ESD 113 and WEA), and pool resources. This makes sense. It sounds to me like the organizations are all going to try and convince the legislature that there are still inequities, and state funds do not approach that which is necessary to educate students.
Sean also indicated he had talked with multiple legislators, many of whom indicated that the State Transportation Department will “occupy most of the air in the room” with respect to budgeting, and education would not receive much attention at all.
That is it for now. Tami or I will continue to provide routine updates regarding what happens at the Board meetings.