The Arlington Public Schools Administration Building is pictured on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Arlington Public Schools Administration Building is pictured on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

$2.5M deficit in Arlington schools could mean dozens of cut positions

The state funding model and inflation have led to Arlington’s money problems, school finance director Gina Zeutenhorst said Tuesday.

ARLINGTON — Facing a $2.5 million budget deficit, the Arlington school board must approve a plan by the end of the month that could include cutting over a dozen jobs.

The draft plan, detailed at a special school board meeting Tuesday, includes the elimination of between 18 and 26 positions. This month, Arlington Public Schools reported having a total of 715 staff members.

The district’s plan would mean $2.8 million in savings and increased revenue for the upcoming school year.

Gina Zeutenhorst, executive director of financial services for the district, attributed the budget deficit to inflation, enrollment decline and the exhaustion of pandemic relief funding.

Although enrollment has increased since the pandemic, it has yet to match attendance numbers from the 2019-2020 school year, when 5,970 students were enrolled, according to state data. This year, the district had 5,679 students.

Another major stress on the budget is the state’s “continued underfunding of the true cost of education,” Zeutenhorst told the school board. The state has used “regionalization” to determine funding for schools, based off the cost of living in the district.

In 2023, Arlington qualified for and expected to receive a 24% increase in its revenue from regionalization, which seeks to counteract inflation, but instead received 18%.

If approved, $413,000 in savings would come from reducing employee costs, in part by limiting annual salary increases.

The bulk of the savings would come from eliminating positions. The draft plan estimates the district will save $2.3 million from reducing positions, a goal Zeutenhorst said the district is trying to achieve through attrition. The plan doesn’t specify which positions could be affected, but did note some will be from special education.

Arlington Public Schools also plans to increase revenue by about $40,000 through increases in summer school tuition rates, school meal prices, facility use fees and tech device insurance.

Though some employees may lose their jobs, Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said the district hopes to keep some by encouraging them to apply for other open positions in Arlington schools.

The board of directors will vote on the final plan Monday. Sweeting said in the Tuesday meeting she hopes to notify staff members if their position has been affected by the end of the month.

Arlington isn’t alone in its financial challenges. Last year, neighboring district Marysville faced a $17.8 million budget deficit, for example. An adjusted fund balance cut that deficit to $5.9 million in February.

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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