The West Linn-Wilsonville Budget Committee gave the school district proposed 2017-18 budget its stamp of approval Monday, May 15 at its second and final meeting. The approval means the budget committee will now present the budget to the school board June 5 for review and approval.
The proposed budget was based on a state funding level of $7.8 billion, but the actual funding level could change before the board votes June 5 depending on potential changes at the state level. Board and budget committee member Betty Reynolds asked the committee if they could recess and meet again May 22 to take a closer look at the budget after the state revenue forecast was released May 16, but the committee ultimately decided any changes in revenue forecast wouldn't dramatically affect the budget as is. The revenue forecast released Tuesday, May 16 estimated that the state could potentially receive a $408 million dollar kicker, which would positively affect state funding.
As for Monday's meeting, WL-WV Business Manager Doug Middlestetter told the committee that state funding is based on total enrollment, with West Linn-Wilsonville receiving a weighted average of $11,061 per student. The proposed budget used a projected enrollment of 9,782 — 50 more than current enrollment — which Middlestetter said was a conservative estimate considering the district saw increased enrollment of 269 additional students last year. A frequent question that arose during Monday's meeting was whether or not the district was budgeting too conservatively, and if the district should be spending more money in the classroom in the short-term.
Middlestetter said that the ending fund balance, which is budgeted to end the year at approximately $1.25 million for 2017-18, is conservative in that the district has historically finished the year with a larger fund than budgeted due to careful spending throughout the year. He added that it's an intentionally conservative number considering state funding and an increase in PERS costs.
"In this district we tend to park our ending fund balance in contingency. A lot of districts do that, which gives you access to it should you need it but you try not to spend it and we seldom dig into our contingency," Middlestetter said. "It's a conservative path that we can get by. It's short of being foolish in spending, and we feel that we can toe a line between keeping our programs secure and keeping a line of sight where we can see a way to get through that next year."
Budget Committee Chair Trey Maust asked Middlestetter what would happen hypothetically if the district's ending fund were to dip below $0, which Middlestetter said was not allowed by the state. Middlestetter also said a healthy ending fund is important for the district's bond rating. The district can go out for another bond as early as 2019, which administration has suggested will be a real consideration, and Middlestetter said a higher ending fund balance indicates a safe investment whenever the district does decide to go out for its next capital bond.
"I experienced the year with the zero fund balance (in 2008-09) , and the only reason for doing that is you're cutting teachers, and any additional fund balance would have been more cuts to the staff. You're crossing your fingers the entire year that the numbers don't continue to come down," said Budget Committee member Jeff Hallin, also a former school board member. "I can appreciate the way we built our estimates, because there is only one direction you want those estimates to go when adjustments are made."
Board member Chelsea Martin asked Middlestetter for a more macro-level view of the budget over the next biennium, and Maust similarly asked if there were any visible differences students will see in the classroom next year based on the proposed budget. Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said there likely won't be a noticeable difference, but that pockets of class sizes could be marginally higher if the district decides not to fill staff retirements this summer.
"We'll also be more careful around supply spending and technology spending," Ludwig said. "We're trying really hard to create a budget where students shouldn't go home and say 'what happened?'"
Of note, the proposed 2017-18 budget includes a general fund of $101.6 million and a special revenue fund of $9.3 million. Also part of the proposed budget, the committee approved the local option tax to levy an additional tax of 1.5 percent (limited to 5 percent of real market value) — the district expects $8.5 million from the local option.
Before approving the budget, Reynolds also wanted more time to consider district answers to committee questions, and wanted to allow the public another chance to provide input. John McCabe, a former member of the budget committee, was the only member of the public to give testimony, giving Reynolds pause that the community might not have been properly notified.
McCabe said parents of middle school students, in particular, are worried by the "high" fund balance and believed the district was being too conservative with its spending.
"When you're budgeting you should always budget for the ceiling, but we're budgeting for a cathedral right now," McCabe said. He added that the community is concerned their local option money isn't going to the classrooms, and that people are wondering whether they're being listened to.
Other committee questions related to specific line items in the budget, including budgeted money for tuition reimbursement and counseling. Middlestetter said the district has $300,000 budgeted for tuition reimbursement as negotiated by the West Linn Education Association in their latest contract. Ludwig said while there's less money budgeted for counselors, there is no change in staff. She said a change in how counselors are categorized meant that some of that budget money was moved around elsewhere.
The committee unanimously approved the budget, meaning the board will review the proposed budget at a public meeting Monday, June 5. The board will allow public testimony before voting.