M’ville tries to figure out legislature’s school funding

MARYSVILLE – Finance director Mike Sullivan tried to explain the new state funding package to the Marysville school board Monday night.

But even he admitted he has more questions than answers, adding it’s one of the most-confusing budgets he’s ever worked with.

“My head’s going to be spinning for a while,” board president Pete Lundberg said at the end of the work session. “I’ve got nothing but questions.”

Sullivan said he would keep the board informed as he learns more as the state legislature itself is still working on the details.

Sullivan said his best estimate is that the district will receive about $5 million more than previously. Some of the categories getting more funding include special education, Career and Technical Education, bilingual education and Highly Capable programs.

Lundberg said the district has been spending about $2 million more a year on special education than the state funded. With the state’s increase, it will still lose about $1 million a year.

One area of major change is class size. The legislature said it would fund class sizes from 22 to 17 in kindergarten through third grade.

“Sounds like we need twenty new classrooms,” board member Bruce Larsen said.

“We don’t have the capacity,” board member Chris Nation added.

If every school district did that, which they couldn’t because there aren’t enough classrooms, there would not be enough teachers available to hire to meet that mark.

“Where’s the state going to find the teachers?” Lundberg asked.

Sullivan said just in Snohomish County that would be several hundred more teachers.

“There are not several hundred teachers available,” he said.

Also, teacher pay will be an issue in Marysville. Statewide, the starting pay will be $40,000 a year, with the cap at $90,000.

“We pay more for teachers than they fund,” Sullivan said. “We will have a little bit more for teachers.”

Regarding teacher pay, Sullivan brought up that neighboring districts that have higher property values could pay more. Increases in property taxes is what will fund basic education.

“Poorer districts would get less,” Superintendent Becky Berg added.

Maintenance and Operations levies still will be needed, despite the increased state funding. In 2018 that amount will be about $28.5 million in Marysville. “That can’t be spent on basic education,” Sullivan said. It can only be spent on enriching student experiences, such as extracurricular activities, early learning, special courses, etc. Actually, starting in 2019, the names of M&O levies will be changed to “Enrichment levies.”

Levy equalization funds will help level the playing field. For example, local property owners paying the maximum $1.50 for $1,000 valuation will bring in $11 million. The equalization funds will up that amount to $15 million.

Board member Tom Albright said he doesn’t see that this new budgeting satisfies the McCleary Supreme Court decision to fully fund basic education.

Sullivan said the Supreme Court may decide it is flawed – that the formula is inadequate.

“We have to prove failure of their formula,” he said of school districts.

Sullivan said the state will be sending the district money differently.

“We will have to watch our cash flow,” he said.

One thing the district won’t have to change is its early release and late start days. The legislature wanted to limit those to just seven days, but Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed that.

Prior to that discussion, the board heard from LaToya Morris, director of Child Nutritional Services.

She said the district served 21,000 more breakfasts this year, compared to last year, but was down in lunches 13,000. However, because of snacks and dinner being served at a couple sites the district served 19,000 more meals.

“We were told to break even we had to sell more meals to kids,” Nation said. “But we really didn’t gain anything. We’re losing money at the same rate.”

Morris explained that selling snacks doesn’t bring in the money that selling full meals do.

“There are competing programs” that are “not compliant” nutritionally that kids like to buy, such as a cup of noodles and a cappuccino.

The hardest spots to sell lunches are Totem Middle School and Marysville Getchell High School, Morris said. However, Totem received a regional award for its Native American lunch in April and Marysville-Pilchuck High School won a national award for its lunch program.

Sodexo, the company that operates the school program, donated $50,000 in equipment to the district this year, for items such as coolers, salad bar stations, etc.

The school board’s regular meeting started with Dell Dierling, director of the Marysville Food Bank, receiving a check from Sodexo.

The food bank also received 22 pallets of food that were put in the freezer and are being given out to larger families of four and more.

“That was a complete bonus,” Dierling said. “They are still feeding the kids” just not at school.