Budget update for 2022-23 school year

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community members,

We continue to develop our budget for the 2022-23 school year, and with the legislative session ending recently, we have more clarity from the state and its priorities for funding public education. As you may be aware, public schools are funded primarily from two sources: from state allocations, which are based on district enrollment, and from local levies, which our community votes on every four years and were most recently approved in Bellingham in 2020.

As we work to understand the legislature’s plans and state funding model, we focus on the positives of enhanced state funding in certain areas while adjusting our spending priorities and new investments based on the complete revenue picture.

Specifically, the state is designating additional funds for school districts in the following areas.

  • Enrollment stabilization, which means even though enrollment has dropped during the pandemic, districts will get some funding for one more year to help make up a portion of that shortfall.
  • Health and mental health services for students, which includes additional funds for nurses, health room aides and mental health professionals. These funds are very welcome, as currently the gap is wide between what the state provides for these professionals vs. what our local community values. For example, the state’s funds will cover approximately 4.4 of our eight nurses, up from 1.7 in previous years. (And most people are surprised we only have eight nurses for 22 schools!)
  • School mascot changes, which helps cover expenses related to integrating the new Bayhawk mascot at Bellingham High School.
  • Outdoor education, which may help us fund part of Mountain School for fifth graders, garden education and other related programs.
  • Cost of living salary increases for staff. In so far as a significant portion of our local levy dollars go toward hiring additional staff to enhance our educational offerings, we will correspondingly need to use levy funds to ensure all employees receive the cost of living increase equally.

The net effect means we will adjust our staffing model to align with our revenue, and we anticipate class sizes returning closer to pre-pandemic levels, while still maintaining lower class sizes on average for our earliest grades. Elementary class sizes have been particularly low during the pandemic with the support of federal dollars. ESSER funds have been tremendously helpful, but they were only temporary and will be spent after the 2022-23 school year.

For the most part these are encouraging changes, reflecting our continuing work to create a program that thoughtfully utilizes our state and local levy revenue and reflects our longstanding priorities and commitment to effective teaching and learning and positive student outcomes. As we recalibrate, we will be looking for budget efficiencies across the system, as always, to balance staffing levels with available resources.

Thanks to those of you who shared input in February on the budget survey. Common themes throughout your feedback are consistent with our wishes for the future, including reducing class sizes, increasing support for mental health, and adding resources and options for student electives/enrichment (e.g., music, art, and world language). We will continue to work on budget models that allow us to achieve these local priorities in the near future.

Please let me or your principal know if you have any questions about the budget process or plans for next year.

Greg Baker