A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker
Students, Families and Staff,
It’s Monday morning, and it looks like a winter wonderland here in Bellingham! Today I was supposed to be in Olympia with members of our school board meeting with legislators re: this year’s budget. Oh, how plans change. As I sit here this morning, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share some reflections and updates not only on the budget but on our weather. This message will be a bit lengthy, so maybe pour another cup of coffee. 🙂
I would like to thank all of you for your patience and understanding over these last seven days. I have heard from hundreds of you. Most have been messages of support and appreciation. Some have been focused on concerns and friendly suggestions. OK, that might be a bit of an understatement, but you get the gist. I’ve appreciated all the feedback. The encouragement keeps us going, and the critical feedback helps us reflect and improve.
The weather forecast calls for more snow this week and next. Bellingham, like most of Western Washington, just does not have the infrastructure of other places in the country to handle such severe weather. I’ve lived in places such as Spokane, Boston, Anchorage and the Arctic of Alaska. Those places are used to snowstorms and their cities have more resources dedicated to handling storms. Here in Bellingham, we have to be a bit more patient as our city and county crews work hard to clear and maintain roadways.
My suggestion to all is to plan for contingencies each day; for example, plan for a late start, an early dismissal and a cancellation. Work with family, friends and neighbors to prepare for each of these options. As you’ve seen, we’ve worked hard to let families know the night before in order to help with this planning. Sometimes that works well and sometimes conditions change the next morning, and we have to adjust. Our team is up late and then early trying to assess all the information and make the best decisions we can on behalf of our nearly 12,000 students. Thank you for understanding the complexities and trusting we are making the best decisions we know how. And of course, when you think we’ve erred, you can certainly let me know. I just ask that you display respect and a level of grace.
While I wasn’t able to make it to Olympia today, I was there last week meeting with our State Superintendent of Schools and speaking with many other superintendents and hearing from legislators. Here are a few of my take-aways:
- Uncertainty – No one is yet sure what the outcome will be. Right now there are hundreds of bills being proposed and debated. Next month, a new state revenue forecast will be given which helps legislators know how many new dollars might be available, which then allows them to form and share out their budget proposals for further debate.
- Local levies – Due to legislation from last year, the amount we can collect from our local levy has dropped by about a third, resulting in a loss of approximately $11 million dollars for our district. The governor’s proposal maintains our levies at past levels; the state superintendent’s proposal is somewhere in between. Our hope is that our local levies are maintained at or near the previous levels; if not, this will result in significant budget reductions next year, for us and districts across the state.
- Health care – The state is planning on changing the health care system for school employees. This will increase the extent of coverage for many school employees. While this is a good thing in concept, the state currently will only fund state-funded positions, not those funded by local levies. This means districts will have to pay more from their local levies at the same time their levies are dropping. This would mean even more reductions in personnel/programs. We hope the state either fully pays for the increased costs to all district employees or puts off this decision until they can figure out how to fully fund it.
- Special Education and Safety – There seems to be a lot of agreement that the state needs to better fund these areas. How much and in what form these dollars come in is uncertain. For example, providing mental health services: the question is whether those funds would go directly to schools to hire mental health counselors or to designated community health partners.
- Timeline – The state is supposed to finish their budget and get it to the governor for signature by the end of April. They may go into special sessions; last year you might recall they went all the way through the end of June. Until we know more details and given the wide range of what could happen, it’s challenging to create a district budget. We’ll continue monitoring the discussions in Olympia and as things become more clear, we’ll then communicate back out our thoughts for next year.
That’s all for this morning.
Please continue to stay warm and safe!