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Jerry Cornfield | jcornfield@heraldnet.com
Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2008, 6:01 p.m.

Public schools facing “bad year” with budgets

A story in today's edition provides a clear view of the economic challenges facing school districts in Snohomish County.

What’s occuring in Snohomish County is not unique. Shortages of cash plague many if not most of the state 295 school districts.

“This is going to be a bad year,” Jennifer Priddy, the state’s assistant superintendent for K-12 finance, told lawmakers and educators on the Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force this afternoon.
Priddy provided a grim report on the fiscal health of school districts. She said layoffs, school closures, fewer electives, higher fees for extracurricular activities and reduced bussing options are under discussion in the biggest and smallest districts.

She told me “it feels like the problem is much deeper and more widespread this year.”

The problem is state funding is covering less and less of the districts’ day-to-day expenses, she reported.

Today’s discussion made clear voter-approved operation and maintenance levies pay for unexpected expenses like rising fuel costs. Those dollars also go to salaries of teachers and staff hired to meet legislative directives such as all-day kindergarten and intensive academic instruction to improve student performance.

Priddy’s report concluded that the districts are too reliant on local funding.

Whether school districts will continue to shoulder this big load is what the task force is wrestling with this year. Its mission is to devise a new and improved method of spreading tax dollars into public education.

At one point in the meeting Dan Grimm, chairman of the task force, asked panelists what amount of money they thought education leaders would say is the districts’ share of basic education costs.

“Zero,” replied Rep. Ross Hunter.


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