Editorial: Painful news about education funding was expected and more will follow

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.comVancouver Public Schools to face $11.44 million budget shortfall in 2019-2020

On Tuesday evening, Vancouver Public Schools sent out a news release announcing that the district forecasts a budget shortfall for the 2019-2020 school year of at least $11.44 million. If you aren’t already, prepare yourself for a steady stream of this kind of news over the next six months as area districts begin to deal with the massive pay raises given to striking teachers last fall.

This kind of news shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. As ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Chris Brown covered the teacher’s strike and the eventual agreements that were settled between area school districts and their unions, it became painfully obvious that the double-digit raises the teachers received prior to this school year were going to be financed on the backs of other employees, who will surely lose their jobs as a result, and even the students, who will feel the impact of reduced non-certified staff and the elimination of other programs and resources.

Here’s a column I wrote in September, projecting exactly what was revealed in the Vancouver Public Schools news release Tuesday:

The Vancouver Public Schools release stated that the forecasted shortfall “is due to the state-legislated cap on local education and operation levies (ESSSB 6362) as well as a recent contract settlement with the Vancouver Education Association and a tentative agreement with the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals.

“Total contractual obligations will cost $20.5 million for VEA and $3 million for VAESP. Negotiations with the Service Employees International Union will begin this spring. Based on current projections, district revenue sources will be insufficient to cover the full cost of those contracts.’’

The news release also gave a glimpse of what the future looks like.

“At today’s meeting, the VPS Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing Superintendent Steve Webb to study the need for a reduced education program in 2019-20 and to recommend necessary budget cuts,’’ the release read.

Webb even offered some specifics.

“Effective immediately, VPS will enact belt-tightening measures to soften the effects of budget reductions next school year,” said Webb. “We will freeze hiring for positions that are non-mission critical and reduce non-personnel expenses (e.g., materials, supplies, travel and operating costs). These measures will generate approximately $1.5 million in projected cost savings that can be applied to the 2019-20 budget.”

Also, “in addition, the district will use $2.25 million from its ending fund balance, or financial reserve, to help address the shortfall. But without further legislative changes and/or more state funding, VPS will need to make budget cuts, including workforce reductions, to balance revenue and expenses in 2019-20.’’

Therein lies the troubling part for area residents, who shoulder much of the burden for funding education through the payment of their ever-increasing property tax bills.

“It’s unfortunate that VPS has been put in this fiscal position by the public policy legislated through ESSSB 6362,” said Rosemary Fryer, VPS board president. “If we don’t have a legislative solution to the ‘McCleary fix’, many school districts across the state will face similar consequences — deep cuts in programs and services to balance budgets into the future.”

And, what would a “McCleary fix’’ look like? It would be a reversal of the levy funding cap lawmakers established last year in an attempt to give property owners some tax relief. For example, the Battle Ground School District is facing a levy funding cut of nearly 50 percent in 2019-2020 unless the legislature reverses that and allows districts to receive more levy dollars. That kind of a reversal would just increase property taxes.

Each time I write about this issue, I’m labeled “anti-teacher.’’ But, I’m not. I have great respect and appreciation for teachers, especially those who had such a tremendous impact on my life and my son’s life. I want them to make as much money as the system can afford. However, it’s very clear to me that the double-digit raises that boosted their salaries last fall can not be supported by this system, unless of course, many others pay a painful price. And, the Vancouver Public Schools news release Tuesday outlined that others will pay and pay dearly.

Upcoming presentation offered on impact of teachers’ strike

Those of you who would like more insight and perspective to the education funding crisis and the impacts of last fall’s teachers’ strikes, should plan to attend the January Dinner Meeting of the Clark County Republican Women.

The guest speaker of the meeting will be Tiffany Couch, founder of Acuity Forensics in Vancouver. Couch offered great detail during the teacher strikes last fall and her presentation this month will detail the impact of the agreements that resulted from the strikes.

The meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Thu., Jan. 24, 6 p.m. at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver. Registration and prepayment is required. For registration, go to ClarkCountyRepublicanWomen.org or call (360) 600-6668 for more information.

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