A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker
Dear Families and Community Members,
Since the beginning of the school year, I’ve attended 28 staff or parent group meetings. My goal is to visit with every staff and parent group in our district over these next few months. I have 19 more meetings coming up, and I look forward to these engaging conversations. I am continually heartened by the commitment our staff and community has in ensuring we have outstanding public schools that support all our students.
During these meetings, many of you want to talk about budget, and it’s on my mind, as well.
Our current budget priorities are outlined in our 2018-19 Priorities for Progress. Paper copies will arrive in our schools in the coming weeks. You’ll see we call out equity, diversity and inclusion as an important focus. Actions include updating The Bellingham Promise to reflect these commitments, our school board exploring an equity policy and collaborating with community partners to ensure all students and families feel welcome.
We are starting our budget process for next school year (2019-20) earlier than usual because we feel it’s necessary to prepare for budget reprioritizations. The state legislature recently changed the landscape for PreK-12 funding. Earlier this year, lawmakers gave school districts additional state funding that was then allocated primarily for employee compensation. However, next year, the state will reduce the amount of money districts can collect through local levies. Last year in our district, we collected about $33 million in our local levy, but next year, we can only collect about $22 million. This has been referred to as the “levy swap.” So while we will receive increased state funding, we will also see a significant drop in local levy revenue. If the legislature does not act in its next session, then many districts, including Bellingham, will have to prepare for significant budget reductions. This means millions of dollars in cuts to programs and staffing. To help with this process, we have developed draft budget reprioritization guiding principles, which you can view here. It’s important to note that these state/local levy dollars are different than bond dollars that are used to build new schools and facilities. Bond dollars cannot be used to pay for staff or programs.
We remain somewhat optimistic that the state will come through with solutions. The state superintendent, Chris Reykdal, is proposing a budget plan that gives local school levies greater flexibility to provide for the educational opportunities communities expect. His proposal includes additional funds for special education and safety and security. You can see details on OSPI’s website or learn more when he comes to Bellingham on Nov. 20.
Your input is important, and we would like to hear from staff, families, students and community members about our budget and draft guiding principles. Please take this brief survey by noon on Friday, Nov. 30. We’ll use your feedback as we further consider our budget and potential reprioritization for 2019-20.