A school bus stops on 83rd Avenue Northeast in Marysville. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

A school bus stops on 83rd Avenue Northeast in Marysville. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Marysville schools to ask state for help in solving $18M shortfall

“There has never been a district of our size facing binding conditions,” Superintendent Zachary Robbins said.

MARYSVILLE — A projected $18 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year has forced the Marysville School District into a financial bind.

Binding financial conditions” occur when a school district fails to submit a balanced budget because spending has exceeded revenues. The district is then required to work with the state to get back into shape financially.

“There has never been a district of our size facing binding conditions,” Superintendent Zachary Robbins said in a press release late Thursday.

Lisa Gonzales, the district’s new executive director of finance and operations, is set to meet with the board of directors Monday evening to explain binding conditions. The board will then work toward a petition, asking the state to approve a budget that includes borrowing from the district’s future revenues.

They must submit a new budget proposal to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction by the end of this month.

Like other districts in the region, the Marysville School District has faced significant financial challenges — a combination of flat enrollment and poor funding has forced big cuts. To help compensate for inadequate funds, the district proposed the “most critical levy” in its history in 2022, which failed twice. In addition, a federal COVID-19 relief program — the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund — is ending.

After awareness efforts like Best Schools Marysville’s “vote yes” campaign, the levy passed in February. It was too little, too late for the district for the coming school year, as money will not arrive until May 2024.

“School districts should not have to rely on public levy funds to operate,” Robbins said.

The Herald could not reach representatives for the district or OSPI for comment on Friday.

The district, which includes the Tulalip Reservation, is comprised of 10 elementary schools, four middle schools, four high schools and multiple early learning programs. Student enrollment has dropped from 11,544 to 10,255 students over the past 10 years, and a further decline is expected.

The Tulalip Tribes have plans to start a K-12 school within the next two years. The move would redirect about $8.2 million in annual federal support from Marysville School District to the tribes.

Earlier this year, the district sent a wave of layoff notices and chopped multiple administration and educational programs. The board of directors consulted with labor groups and cut down on overtime, general spending and external contracts.

The district failed to reach a balanced budget by the July deadline.

Gonzales said the district “will need to borrow money in the future to meet previously bargained agreements,” according to the press release. The agreements include a 3% raise for most district staff.

OSPI doesn’t offer financial assistance to help the district eliminate its negative balance, only guidance, as OSPI spokesperson Nathan Olson explained when the Kent School District faced a similar conundrum in 2017.

“That includes technical assistance and goal-setting,” Olson said at the time. “For example: Let’s say hypothetically a district was $100 in the red. We might ask them to have a negative balance of $60 by Dec. 1, and $30 dollars by March 1 and $0 by, say, May 1.”

According to the district’s website, future budget cuts will impact “all areas,” including educator and administration positions and learning programs. Administrative furloughs are also on the table.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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