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CSD Faces Up to $11.9 Million Budget Reduction in 2020–21

Centralia School District is facing up to an $11.9 million budget reduction for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins on September 1.  

Many factors have contributed to the projected deficit according to Kristy Vetter, Interim Superintendent. “We’ve had a storm of circumstances that has contributed to a projected reduction in revenue greater than what we originally anticipated,” said Vetter. “The failure of the levy, and the decision to postpone a second attempt until later this year means we have to build the budget as if we had a double levy failure.” 

The COVID-19 outbreak in Washington has contributed to lower than expected revenue projections. State tax revenue is projected to be much lower than originally forecast, and school districts have been advised to expect lower enrollment numbers in the Fall as well. “These factors create reductions in our anticipated state apportionment for next year, bringing the total of our expected deficit up to as much as $11.9 million,” said Vetter. 

The deficit means Centralia will have to reduce planned expenditures by nearly 22 percent for 2020-21. “These are reductions that will be noticed by every student, family, and staff member,” said Vetter. She added that the district has been making plans for the reductions using a core set of guiding principles. Those principles include: 

  • Minimize to the extent possible, the impact on student learning.
  • Meet state, federal, and local policy requirements
  •  Keep an equity lens – consider impacts on our most vulnerable students, no one program or location is exempt; everyone will be impacted at some level.  
  • Be thorough, leave no rock unturned, think creatively about solutions

“We have kept incoming superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant aware of our progress. It is important that we give her a full set of information she can rely on when she comes on board in July. She has been very gracious with her time, asked good questions, and has been an invaluable consulting resource for us.”

Specific reductions have not been announced yet; however the district is working on finalizing those plans. “Nearly 80 percent of our annual expenditures are for personnel costs,” said Tabitha Whiting, Executive Director of Human Resources. “This is a complex and difficult situation, reductions will have to be made to staffing in order to meet the challenge we face.  Announcement of these decisions will occur after we have considered the input from many stakeholders.”

Centralia School Board President, Lori Fast, said the issue has been percolating for a while. “We have been spending more than we receive,” said Fast. “Our fund balance has helped us keep levy-funded programs operating in the face of a significant reduction in levy revenue since 2018. We were hopeful that the state would step in with a solution, either with enhanced funding for programs outside of basic education, which are still underfunded, or with solutions that return some local funding capabilities to school districts. That hasn’t happened and now we find ourselves in an unfortunate position that is being compounded by circumstances beyond anyone’s control.”

Because the district has relied on the general fund reserves to maintain programs and services, the fund balance has fallen below what is required by policy. “We need to have enough funds in reserve to maintain the operation of the district for two months,” said Fast.” Right now we are at risk of not meeting our policy requirements. The current COVID-19 crisis is an example of why it is important for a school district to have adequate reserve funding available for emergencies.”

Fast added that she hopes Centralians can come together to find creative solutions. “None of us have ever been in this kind of situation before. Our country and community haven’t faced this type of economic hardship in our lifetimes. One thing we know is that Centralians always rally to a cause for the benefit of our community, and we’re hoping for your input and creative problem solving suggestions now.”

The process will begin with the approval of a resolution at a later meeting, before May 15th. “We are legally obligated to provide our certificated bargaining group members with layoff notices no later than May 15th,” said Whiting. 

Fast said that there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. “We know that it sounds like the situation keeps getting worse. Our board is committed to continuing to work to solve the issue of our local levy funding, and we have several options for a second attempt election this year. If the replacement levy is ultimately approved by voters, we may be able to bring back some, but not all of the programs that our students need to be prepared for success.”