The Centralia School District will make $4.2 million in cuts for the 2023-2024 school year budget, the Centralia School Board voted Wednesday.
The specifics on what will be cut won’t be determined until the district goes through the formal budgeting process, which takes place next month. But the Centralia School Board had to approve the total budget reduction amount ahead of that process so the district can prepare to notify staff of any layoffs by May 15.
“This budget is not what we believe is necessary to develop and grow the education of students in our district. Simply preserving the status quo cannot be a long-term goal. It is today’s reality,” Board Chair Tim Browning said, reading from a prepared statement, during the Centralia School Board’s meeting on Wednesday.
The district’s attempt to pass a replacement levy at approximately $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value failed twice at the ballot box, most recently in the April election, which was certified last week. The levy was fewer than 80 votes short of passage.
District staff, including Executive Director of Fiscal Services Joe Vetter, have since presented the Centralia School Board with a working list of possible places to cut, such as a $200,000 reduction to the athletics program’s current $900,000 budget, setting up a compromise with the City of Centralia to reduce the district’s contributions to the Centralia Community Pool, cutting access to one of the two buildings for summer school in 2023-2024, cutting several staff positions, canceling the contract with the Centralia Police Department for a currently-unfilled school resource officer position, and more.
The district’s goal in presenting the list to the school board this early in the budget process is for the board to provide feedback to district staff as they build the budget.
“I know you don’t like any of the items on the list — we don’t either because we feel they’re all important and needed by our students or we wouldn’t have had them here,” Superintendent Lisa Grant said to school board members on Wednesday. “I know you have seriously and thoughtfully considered all of this, as we have, and while this is very uncomfortable and we all hate it all, I appreciate the efforts to try and make it work and continue to move our district forward. And that said, we are resilient, we will move forward even in the midst of this.”
The district calculated the $4.2 million sum by adding on the amount of levy funding the district loses for the 2023-2024 school year after the existing levy expires in December (approximately $2.5 million) with the projected amount of state funding the district expects to lose to an enrollment decline next year (estimated at $1.7 million).
For reference, the Centralia School District’s 2022-2023 budget was roughly $64.85 million, up from about $51.59 million in 2021-2022 and $48.13 million in 2020-2021.
That 2020-2021 budget was the result of a $11.9 million budget reduction the district made after its levy renewal failed on the ballot. The reduction resulted in layoffs the summer of 2020.
Before agreeing on the $4.2 million budget reduction on Wednesday, the school board held a work session to continue last week’s examination of the district’s working list of cuts.
The goal with the budget cuts is to spread them as much as possible to minimize the negative impact on specific programs that either have a known impact on student enrollment or are critical to student success in the classroom.
“Compared to three years ago, this process has felt a lot different from my perspective,” board vice chair Mandi McDougall said, telling Grant, “the thoughtful information you and Joe and the rest of the team has provided has made this the least icky as possible and has made it feel like I know that we are sticking to our strategic plan and our priorities and just really emphasizing the things that make the most impact for our students and our community.”
Finalization of the 2023-2024 budget will take place in June.