Dear Issaquah School Community,
With the Governor’s pen poised to finalize the state’s supplemental budget this week, I realize that I have been holding my breath since the process began more than four months ago. Boy, does it feel good to breathe deeply once again, as I am able to announce some relatively celebratory news for the Issaquah School District.
From December onward, lawmakers released various proposed state budgets that slashed District funding anywhere from $2.7 to $6.4 million next school year. The final budget settled somewhere in between, cutting our revenue by an estimated $3.1 million. Lawmakers eliminated all I-728 funding, which lowers class sizes; shrunk funding for enhanced class-size ratios in elementary grades; and took away the only remaining professional development day for teachers.
I know—nothing here seems celebratory. But as often happens, this crisis situation provided a catalyst for needed change.
After a ferocious, decades-long effort led in part by the Issaquah community, a bill passed this legislative session that increases school districts’ levy authority by 4 percent through the year 2017. The Issaquah School District now has the ability to collect a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy worth 28.97 percent of its total state and federal revenue; previously, we were capped at 24.97 percent. While this may seem very abstract, here’s the crux: Lawmakers have given us the means to use local levy dollars to offset the systemic cuts they are making to state education funding. The levy-lid lift essentially allows us to break even next year, covering the $3.1 million in state reductions as well as the typical annual growth in operating expenses (imagine your increased gas and utility prices multiplied by thousands!).
Yes, this is celebratory news! We anticipate maintaining current class sizes and service levels next year, and we will not institute a reduction-in-force in our teaching ranks.
As I stated earlier, however, this is relatively celebratory news. The extra M&O dollars do not make the Issaquah School District whole, they merely staunch the drain. Last year, the state reduced our funding by more than $7 million, and we are shouldering the burden. Class sizes increased. Operational support decreased. As I like to say, everyone has had to put some extra weight in their backpack to distribute the load this year. My sincere appreciation goes to all staff for their professionalism and dedication. So it is an incredible gift to be able to hold steady when many districts are once again reaching deep into their organization for savings.
To maximize our limited dollars, we are continuing to look for efficiencies wherever possible to drive resources to classrooms. We are tightening bus routes, conserving energy, considering alternative revenue sources, and sustaining current levels of operational staff even as building square-footage grows, among other efforts. If you have an innovative cost-saving or revenue-generating idea, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We do our best work with combined brainpower!
I want to conclude with a humble thank you. Without the thoughtfulness, strategic planning, and dogged determination of our community and staff, our schools would be facing an abyss. Last spring, the many diverse representatives on our community levy committee had the political foresight to recommend an M&O measure that accounted for the possibility of a lift in the levy lid—even better, they structured the entire package so that it would not increase taxes for the average homeowner. With voters’ approval of that M&O levy in February, the District is now able to immediately capitalize on the newly changed legislation (for other districts to do so, they will have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a supplemental levy election). On the other side of the coin, a coalition of Issaquah school supporters—including parents, teachers, service employees, and School Board members—provided much of the information, testimony, and passion that turned the M&O levy-lid bill into law.
Simply, the Issaquah School District cares for its children and its schools like no other community. As a bright spot in the future, lawmakers are paving the way for a systemic financial plan that will cover the actual costs of basic education; until that becomes a reality, I count my blessings that my local community is not content to operate schools at the subpar level provided by state funding. I promise to be a good and accountable steward of your investment, looking for operational efficiencies and investing in strategies proven to impact learning.
The 2010-11 school year is already off to a promising start, and I cannot wait to see what we achieve together.
--Dr. Steve Rasmussen, Superintendent