Seeking input on budget priorities
The Methow Valley School District is giving all interested members of the community — along with school staff and students — the chance to weigh in on how the district spends part of its budget.
For the past several years, the district has asked the community for input about programs and classes that should be expanded, educational opportunities that should be initiated, and programs that can be reduced or eliminated.
This year, the district is formalizing that process with Dream Big. The Dream Big event (next Tuesday, Jan. 14, see accompanying story) will be facilitated by the three new building principals — Paul Gutzler from Methow Valley Elementary School, Crosby Carpenter from Liberty Bell High School, and Sara Mounsey from the Independent Learning Center. The evening session will educate the public about school programs and finances and gather ideas about priorities.
There are no limits to the dreams. Proposals already suggested by staff include reducing class size in all grades, increasing world-language instruction, expanding the trail system for year-round use, starting a substance-abuse-prevention curriculum, and adding opportunities for internships. Other proposals include expanding career and technical education to include health care, agriculture and automotive subjects; and starting a healthy-snack program.
Input on the budget applies to just 10% of the district’s overall expenditures, since 80% goes to salaries and benefits and 10% is for an emergency reserve and facility maintenance, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said.
All budget proposals — from staff, parents, students and the community — will be compiled as “Priorities for Progress,” which will be circulated for feedback later this winter.
This year, the school district has the advantage of having a better understanding of how the state Legislature’s approach to funding education affects the Methow budget, Venable said. Legislators rejiggered education funding in 2017 to resolve a lawsuit that found the state wasn’t meeting its commitment to fund basic education.
The new formula was intended to reduce inequities between poorer and wealthier districts. One effect of the changes is a cap on the amount of money districts can collect from taxpayers through local levies. In the Methow, that means the district is getting about $300,000 less annually than what voters approved, Venable said.
The district is also taking advantage of the fact that the three principals are going through their own planning process, which includes feedback on goals and initiatives for students and staff.
“It’s kind of a unique point in time,” Venable said. “It will build on the district’s strategic vision, but what we invest in may change.”
Because of the legislative changes, the district is budgeting for less than the four-year levy approved by voters in 2015, Venable said.
There is a vote on two replacement levies on Feb. 11, one for educational programs and operations (EP&O), and one for capital projects and technology. The district is asking taxpayers to approve $2 million for the EP&O levy, compared with $1.8 million four years ago. The capital projects/technology levy request is $3.4 million, up from $2.225 million four years ago.
The EP&O amount is more than the district is permitted to collect under current law. The rationale is that, if the law changes, the district will be set to collect the higher rate without the delay and expense of another election, Venable said.
Only the EP&O levy is capped (at $2,500 per student) because the technology levy isn’t governed by the same law. The district has increased the amount it’s seeking to invest in educational programs that integrate the use of technology. In addition to computer labs and robotics, that could include audio books or technology for composing music, Venable said.
Because of increasing property values and the legislative limit, if both levies pass, taxpayers will pay about 10 cents less per $1,000 property valuation than what was originally projected in 2015.
Final decisions on budget priorities will be made after the levy election.
The Dream Big event — where people can learn about and comment on the schools’ budget priorities — is Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 6 p.m. in the Liberty Bell High School cafeteria. Light refreshments and child care will be provided.
People who can’t attend the event can provide input through on the district’s “Priorities for Progress” at methow.org, by emailing Superintendent Tom Venable at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by dropping off or mailing their ideas to the school district office. The deadline is Feb. 21.