Even districts less affected by funding changes ask ‘is it sustainable?’

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Columbia Basin Herald/file photo There are some local school district that are less affected by changes in school funding, but they are still concerned for the future.

QUINCY — John Boyd is not hesitant to say the Quincy School District is blessed.

“Quincy is in a fortunate situation,” the superintendent said. “We are not a property-poor district. We have a high level of assessed value.”

As we have seen in this series, since the Washington state legislature acted in 2017 to answer the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary decision to increase spending and “fully fund” basic education, more than a third of the state’s school districts — including a number in Grant County — are actually going to lose funding.

But as Quincy shows, not every school district is facing impending doom.

A quick look at statistics from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Grant County Assessor’s office illustrates just how sweet a spot Quincy finds itself in.

With a 2018-19 enrollment of roughly 2,900 students, property in the Quincy School District has a total assessed value of $4.3 billion. In comparison, the Moses Lake School District, with a full-time enrollment of just over 8,300 at the end of February, sits atop a total district-wide assessed value of $4.1 billion.

Which means while both districts can levy around $6.2 million at the $1.50 capped rate, Quincy’s goes farther. And Quincy’s local school levy didn’t have as far to fall either, dropping from $2.89 per $1,000 compared with Moses Lake’s $4.61.

Quincy is also able to levy a great deal more than the $1.3 million (on $877 million in assessed value) just approved by voters in the Ephrata school district, which is similar in enrollment to Quincy.

The Quincy School District is in a unique position thanks almost entirely to the fact it has become a hub for data centers, hosting several major campuses and propelling Redmond-based Microsoft to the position as Grant County’s single biggest taxpayer.

“The data centers are half the assessed value of our district,” Boyd said. “We’re in a pretty comfortable position.”

It doesn’t mean Quincy isn’t faced with some of the same choices and difficulties other districts in the region are facing. Because local levies can no longer be used to fund “basic education,” Boyd said districts will have to do even more work to properly account for funds (the state’s accounting guide for school districts is nearly 700 pages long), while auditing to make local funds are legally spent will get tougher as well.

“There are requirements on spending,” he said. “Between auditing and accounting, OSPI and federal parameters, it really is a complex, head scratching deal.”

“It’s our first year feeling our way through this,” Boyd added.

But Quincy’s four year budget forecast shows something no other local district can boast — a consistent surplus of around $7.4 million every year through 2020-21.

The Royal School District — with an enrollment of just under 1,700 at the end of February, an annual budget of $24.1 million, and a tax base of $773 million — is also in a somewhat better situation, mainly because their local levy only fell 27 cents when the $1.50 cap was imposed.

But it doesn’t mean Royal isn’t facing problems.

“We did get more money from the state in other areas,” said Roger Trail, Royal School District superintendent. “It more than makes up for (the loss). We saw a slight increase in Special Education and other programs. There were several other areas where we did see an increase in the amount. It did make up for the loss of levy dollars, although, everyone is still wondering what this will be like long term. Will it be sustainable?”

While the loss of levy funds has been covered, Trail said they will have to figure out how to pay for the $246,000 jump in insurance costs demanded by the School Employees Benefit Board, the new state agency created to manage school benefits. It’s an unexpected cost a lot of school districts are getting hit with, and something we will look at in greater detail tomorrow.

However, for now, Trail sees the school district doing business as usual.

“It is fortunate for the Royal School District that we are growing,” said Trail. “Over the past ten years, we have increased by about 37 students a year. That is helpful.”

Even with the increase in students, Trail still wonders if the states new rules will be sustainable. Like a lot of districts, Royal’s four-year budget forecast shows a deficit of over $800,000 by the 2021-21 school year.

“In the short term, we look to be okay,” Trail said. “But is it sustainable? If it is not fixed, most districts will go under.”

NEXT WEEK: Is there any hope any of this will be fixed any time soon?

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