Update and Reflections on Budget Feedback

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

 

Dear Staff, Students, Families and Community,

I would like to thank all of you who either took the time to respond to the budget survey or who I’ve engaged with at recent staff and parent meetings. Based on the feedback I have received, I wanted to share an update on our budget development for the 2019-20 school year.

First, we need to talk timeline. We are early in the budget process and will be watching the legislature’s actions when it comes into session in January and throughout the winter and spring.

Many voices have input on our district budget and how schools are funded. Some of you were at Options High School on Nov. 20 and heard State Superintendent Chris Reykdal talk about his recommendations to ensure that districts do not have to make major cuts.  Next week, Governor Inslee will share his budget ideas, and then we’ll start to hear proposals from the legislature itself. This week I had the opportunity to meet with the governor, along with State Superintendent Reykdal and others, to discuss budget. I am hopeful that Inslee’s proposed budget will be positive for districts and include plans that help us avoid making cuts – and that the legislature is receptive to educators’ ideas.

All this to say: It may not be until May or June until we know our budget for 2019-20.  For those feeling stressed and wanting to know exactly what’s going to happen, patience is key.

That’s the big picture; now let’s look at what we have direct control of: how we spend the budget that we have. On Nov. 14, I sent out a budget update and asked for input via a survey. I received many thoughtful responses from staff and families, and I’d like to share some of the common themes, as well as a few of my own reflections.

  • THEME: Appreciation for using The Bellingham Promise as a guide.
    • While it doesn’t help us make every hard decision, the fact that we have clarity in our district about our vision, mission, core values, outcomes and key strategies is a huge help.  It’s a filter that we put decisions through daily to help provide guidance and clarity.
  • THEME: Strong agreement to focus on what makes the greatest impact for students, particularly those with the highest needs.
    • I appreciate this and also acknowledge that nearly all of what we do has direct or indirect support for students, so coming to agreement on what makes the biggest impact can be very subjective.
  • THEME: Make cuts to non-employee related costs before people; for example: supplies, travel, curriculum and professional development.
    • Agreed.  We’ll definitely try to cut back in these areas.  The challenge is that we don’t spend a whole lot in these areas to start with—most of our resources go to hiring people.  But it’s still a good place to trim.
  • THEME: Make refinements to our Project Free Education Initiative.
    • This is a complicated theme, and one worth exploring further.  We believe that our children have a right to a free and appropriate education, so bringing back all the fees that used to exist—from school supplies to field trips to course and athletic fees—is not something we will likely do.  That said, maybe there are some adjustments that would better allow those with means to choose to pay for more than they are now.
  • THEME: Suggestions to cut back on district administration.
    • This is often an initial suggestion: “Don’t cut staff in buildings; instead, focus on all those extra administrators at the district office.”  I’ve worked in administration for many years in numerous districts, and there can be a perception that there are too many administrators, especially when resources get tight.  I understand this perspective, and I also know most people don’t have a clear understanding of the often-behind-the-scenes work done by those working in the district office and how that work supports staff and students in our buildings.  But I hear you, and this will be an area we’ll certainly examine closely.
  • THEME: Staff are worried about their jobs.
    • Our hard-working staff want and need to know what their future holds. The challenge is we won’t likely know until the legislature finishes its work.  Between now and the end of the legislative session, there will be lots of discussions down in Olympia about school financing and what improvements/changes need to be made.  As I said above, we will have to be patient and focus on our work, while at the same advocating when we can.  I’ll be meeting with legislators over the coming months, as will our school board, labor associations and many others.

If anyone wants to discuss budget ideas or questions with me more, please invite me to a staff meeting or a parent meeting. I’m also happy to answer emails or meet with small groups in a convenient location and answer questions the best I can. I also commit to sending updates through this budget process and being transparent as we make decisions.

Sincerely,

Greg Baker