Commentary: The numbers behind the Edmonds School District layoff notifications

Diana White

On Tuesday May 14, a vote was taken by the Edmonds School Board to approve a reduction in force and notify (as required by law and to honor our collective bargaining agreement) 25.2 certificated staff of the possibility their positions may be eliminated in the 19-20 school year. It was an excruciating decision because every person affected causes a ripple effect in the classroom and our community. This is the worst-case scenario and the final budget discussions are continuing now until final adoption in August.

The Edmonds School District is facing unprecedented times in school funding which has been years in the making of the McCleary “fix.” Of the recent $17.5 million shortfall, $7.5 million (43%) can be attributed to the negotiated contract increases to staff salaries and benefits payable next school year. The district employs over 3,600 certificated and classified staff with 13 different union bargaining groups — and with 88% of our budget going to pay salaries and benefits, it’s nearly impossible to make up a budget shortfall without affecting staff.

Many have asked if the negotiated teacher raises were sustainable given the shortfall we are facing. The teacher raises are only a fraction of the equation, and not the only reason why we are facing a shortfall. It is important to note that this is an extremely volatile time in school funding for all districts. Compounding the problem is the reductions to local levy collections allowable ($6.2 million) the increased cost to consolidate state employee benefits ($1.5 million) and reduction in funding for K-3 ($1.25 million). We were expecting the Legislature to amply fund our most vulnerable Special Ed students. This did not occur and adds $5 million to the problem. An unintended consequence of the teacher pay raises is the reduction in the number of teacher retirements, which are down about 50% from past years.

Usually the fund balance (or savings account) can help weather the storm(s). However, this account has been depleted over the years and is now less than the projected target of 4%. The good news is that when the fund balance was burgeoning, the extra monies were spent to protect our class sizes, which thankfully, are still the lowest in the region.

Please be assured that Superintendent McDuffy, her staff, the school board and others will be working very diligently to minimize the impact to our classrooms. We are all committed to doing what’s best for student learning while also being responsible fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Respectfully,

Diana White
Edmonds School Board

13 Replies to “Commentary: The numbers behind the Edmonds School District layoff notifications”

  1. School board president Diana White’s explanation of the school staff layoffs indicates lack of careful planning. Clearly there were too many unknowns involved when the decision was made to raise teachers’ salaries. I am all for paying teachers well and celebrated the news at the time; but such decisions need to be made as part of responsible budget management. Ms White says the salary increases are “only a fraction” of the budget problem; but 7.5 of 17.5 comes close to being 1/2 – a pretty big “fraction.”

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  2. Good point! Whenever someone tells me it’s only a fraction, I ask how big of a fraction… even 90% is a fraction.

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  3. Since approximately 75% of our revenue comes from State funding, what happens in the legislative session is critical to our budget process. The legislative session ended on April 28th, 2019 and up until 11 pm, the legislature was considering a bill that would have greatly improved Edmonds budget outcome. In the end, only the largest district (Seattle) was the beneficiary.
    When referring to the ‘unknown’ it refers to what will happen in the State Legislature, and I’ve not met anyone who can predict or plan for that! The other big unknown is student enrollment, which is only a prediction of how many seats will be occupied in September 2019, again, difficult to know.
    To be more precise, the $7.5M increase is a result of all staff increases, not just teachers. We bargained last year with our 2 largest employee groups. In fact, the teacher increase this year for 19-20 year is 3%, which reflects a cost of living increase. School funding is very complicated as you can see and I appreciate the opportunity to explain.

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    1. Weren’t the reductions to local levy collections ($6.2M ) and increased cost for state employee benefits ($1.5M) known when the district agreed to increase spending by $7.5?

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  4. Diana, Just want to ask a clarifying question. Are you saying that the Edmonds’ School District teachers received only a 3% salary increase for 2019-20?

    Lynne Chelius

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  5. Lynne-yes you are correct. For the 19-20 school year the increase is 3% which is basically a cost of living increase. Of course last year was when the union and district agreed to a 17% increase in pay which is reflected in the current year 18-19 budget.

    The local levy collection amount was not known until the end of legislative session. I am not sure about the other item but I can find out.

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  6. Thanks for your information. I would also like to know what the yearly cost of all benefits amount to.

    I have always thought it is good information to have for looking at total compensation. That would include the school district contribution to pensions and the cost of health care, Are there other benefits?

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    1. Per ESD reports here is total Salaries and Benefits and other expenses for 2018 and 2019 expressed in $m. Below Sal and Ben and other is Revenue from all sources State, Local, Fed and other
      Year…2018…..2019
      Sal…..$175….$199
      Ben….$70…..$76
      Other..$38….$42
      Tot….$284…$316

      Rev…$279…$319

      The diff for 2018 was made up by using $5m from Reserves and for 2019 $3m was paid back to reserves.

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  7. Jim-I have an answer from Lydia Sellie, our Director of Business and Ops. As you can see, we are dealing with a lot of moving targets.

    “The SEBB amount is still an estimate, we haven’t even received all of the guidance yet! The levy amount was unknown until the legislature finished”.

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    1. No doubt, like many of us, you are tired of the legislators screwing around with relatively minor things for most of the session and only getting to the very important stuff when they are running out of time.

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  8. Diana,

    Are you honestly saying that you were unaware of the dramatic reduction in the levy amount/$1000 that the ESD was allowed to collect for the 2018-2019 school year?

    Here is an excerpt from the August 12, 2018 article that Jim linked to, above:

    “Though revenue from the state is expected to increase each year, revenue from local levies is expected to decrease sharply starting in 2019. McCleary legislation requires a cap on funds collected from local levies. That cap must be either $1.50 per $100,000 assessed value, or $25 per student, whichever is lower. The district’s current levy, approved earlier this year, is at $1.50 per $1,000 based on that cap requirement. The former levy was at around $2.35 per $1,000.”

    This indicates that as ESD School Board President you knew, or should have known, that the “current levy, approved earlier this year” (2018) was $1.50 per $1000 versus $2.35 per $1000.

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    1. Joan, quick correction the local levy allowed by the legislature was $1.50/1000 or $1500/student, which ever is lower. The lower amount currently is $/1000 but the ESD estimate is the $/student will be the lower in the near future. The legislature as I understand it has changed the formula to be $2.50/1000 or $2500/student, which ever is lower.

      In reality the local levy loss was -$9m while the increase from the state was +$50m or a net increase in one year of +$41m. The state was originally estimated to add about $4m per year but that is now higher base on what this last legislature added that was not previously report.

      ESD data presented to the public shows when ESD was paying teachers an average of $77k the state was funding $70k. The rest was coming from local levy. Recently the state added 10% to the formula to bring the state contribution up to $77 but ESD gave that amount and more in raises. The total increase in Salary and Benefits went from $245 to $275 or $30m from 2018 to 2019. The ESD seldom show what increase the state has provided but it is quick to suggest we lost money locally. Yes but the gain was more than 5 times the loss.

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