TONASKET – Setting the projected enrollment for the following school year is a critical though typically routine task for school districts as they must look into the proverbial crystal ball and estimate what sort of funding they will receive from the state.
This isn’t a typical year for the Tonasket School District, which already knows it faces a cash flow issue that will extend into January.
That’s because, with the school day being extended next year and the additional staff required to support that, the heightened expenses start in the fall.
However, the new maintenance and operations levy, with increased funding to support those staff increases, won’t start rolling in until after the new year.
State funding is determined by projected enrollment count, then adjusted to the actual enrollment numbers later in the year. The board typically bases its figures on March’s enrollment number (1,050 students) and subtracts about 20 students in case there is an unexpected enrollment drop before the fall.
In order to alleviate the cash flow issue during the fall, Superintendent Paul Turner had asked the board at a previous meeting to consider not subtracting the 20 students from its projected enrollment. This would bring in more state money during the fall at the expense of receiving an anticipated “bump” in funds in January and keep the district afloat until the increased levy money begins coming in.
The board had hesitated to approve Turner’s recommendation due to fears of the financial consequences of budgeting for 1,050 students and then only having, say, 1,030 show up for school in the fall.
“Just because I’m asking to budget on the revenue side at 1,050, we don’t have to run that same level at the expenditure side,” Turner said. “We’ll budget there, but if we see the cash reserve is going down we’ll cut back on the expenditure side. The idea of looking at the 1,050 number will give us consistency throughout the year…. What I’m saying is that is we will collect revenue at the higher rate, but we will budget our expenditures for where the enrollment is actually at.”
Board members Ty Olson and Lloyd Caton seemed especially uncomfortable with budgeting at the 1,050 level.
“The more we skew the numbers in the fall the more we expose ourselves later on,” Olson said.
Business manager Deb Kitterman said that she was comfortable with budgeting at the higher number as, in recent years, the enrollment has been at least at the projected numbers.
“It gives us an even cash flow,” Kitterman said. “The only thing that might dip too far is if something big happens in maintenance that we have to take care of. I have to find that money somewhere. So that money coming in the fall will help. January through April will still be tough. Instead of a bump in January it will even out assuming we come in at 1,050. If we come in at less we’ll spend at the lower level.”
After plenty of further discussion, Caton moved to accept Turner’s 1,050 recommendation and the board (minus an absent Catherine Stangland) passed it unanimously.
School day set
As mentioned above, the school day next year will return to what is considered a “full day,” which will also meet a state mandate that a year include 1,080 of instructional time beginning with the 2015-16 school year. Beginning in the fall, school will begin at 8:30 a.m. and be released at 3:15 p.m.
Early release days will continue to be on Wednesday; beginning next year early release will be three hours earlier than the normal schedule. That is one hour longer than the current schedule but will make up for professional development time that will be lost due to new scheduling requirements that will fill the longer day.
The district will be releasing a web-based survey near the publication date of this issue to gain feedback from the community that will be used both for assessing its second attempt at passing a facilities bond measure, as well as long-range strategic planning.
The survey, which will be administered by Thoughtstream, a Canadian data analytics company.
The first round of surveys will be sent out to the district’s email contact list. Those who don’t receive surveys that wish to participate can contact the district office at 509-486-2126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There will be four questions going out,” Turne said. “They are open-ended questions. The answers will be compiled into topics that will be re-sent out, and then people can prioritize those topics. Whatever people have on their mind about the district, like how to enhance opportunities for the kids, and so forth.”
Turner said that they hoped to have the surveys completed by late May, with 20-30 prioritized items to work with. He added that the experience with the initial, failed bond measure indicated that there needed to be additional efforts interact with the community.
“The feedback from the bond was that we didn’t talk to people,” he said. “Whether we have or haven’t is a moot point; that’s the feedback. With Thoughtstream, people can send a link to their friends, register up and start building our contacts for later Thoughtstreams and see if we can build that community input. Hopefully it can also provide us some information for our strategic planning.”
Lael Duncan, executive director of Okanogan County Community Action, was on hand to request the use of district facilities for a group planning to visit Tonasket in the summer of 2015.
Group Work Camps, which will be visiting Okanogan this year (also in partnership with Community Action) approached Turner about the use of the facilities.
“What they are seeking from the school is a place they can ‘crash,'” Turner said. “They bring their sleeping bags. They would hire our cooks to cook for them and our custodians to clean. The kids come into the area to work on projects for disabled or older people that can’t do them on their own.”
“We’ll have about 240 kids and their chaperones,” Duncan said. “It’s a good mix of chaperone-to-kid. They’ll work on about 40 homes doing small repairs … like porches, steps, painting houses.
“The opportunity for 2015 we’re looking at north county, not just Tonasket. This company has been doing this kind of project for about 37 years. The kids pay to come and travel across the country and putting their faith into action. It’s a non-denominational religous organization. Community Action’s role is to raise a share of their cost, about $20,000 plu in materials, plus time from our staff. We’re in a learning curve right now (with the Okanogan project this summer) but Tonasket will benefit from our learning curve.”
The board, while seeming generally in favor of the idea, opted to gather more information on the group before making a final decision, which needs to be made by the end of the month.
New positions filled
The board approved recommendations to fill two new elementary school positions with existing staff that applied for the jobs.
Gail Morris, currently a second grade teacher, will be the elementary level music teacher beginning in the fall. Lesa Sevin, currently an elementary teacher in the Outreach program, will take on the new elementary art teacher position.
Also, Pam Leslie was hired as the high school’s new varsity volleyball coach.
The Tonasket School Board next meets on Monday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m.