Saturday, March 4, 2023

Sequim School District Families, Staff and Community Members, 

Spring is approaching and with it comes the journey of school district budget development. As you may have read in the paper or heard on the news, many districts across our state are struggling to face the fact that school district expenditures have outpaced revenues. Sequim School District is no exception to this realityI would like to share details to ensure you have timely and transparent information regarding the district’s financial challenges and to ask for your ideas and input.  


School district budgets are heavily subsidized by the State of Washington. Student enrollment counts are what determines the level to which schools receive state funding. Our enrollment has declined substantially since 2019The district was notified of the governor’s budget priorities, and later this monthwe will hear from both the state House and Senate regarding their state funding priorities. These legislative decisions will impact our district’s budget for the school year 2023-24. With the information currently available to us, a shortfall of about $3.6 million is projected in Sequim School District.  


Now back to the news as of late. Large school districts such as Seattle and Bellevue are considering reducing significant numbers of staff and potentially closing schools. School districts closer to our size (Camas and Port Angeles) have also sounded alarm as budget shortfalls are presenting similarly to ours. To this point, State Superintendent Chris Reykdahl recently spoke to school board members and school superintendents alike. He spoke of this year being “a perfect storm” for school budgeting. He outlined the reductions of state funding to schools that have occurred over the past five years... yet we all know our expenses keep going up. Below is an introduction to the elements that have come together to create the financial gaps across our state. My colleague, Superintendent Greg Baker of Bellingham describes contributing factors resulting in a fiscal cliff this way: 


·         End of COVID-specific federal funding: By the end of this school year, Sequim School District will have spent over $7 million dollars in emergency COVID ESSER funds we received from the federal government. These were short-term funds set to support districts through the pandemic. There is little COVID funding remaining ($1.3M) and the funding comes with strings attached for how to spend itThese funds have helped in a variety of ways over the past two years; we were able to enhance our staffing levels, and increase many services, for example our health and mental health services, e.g., more nurses, health room assistants and social emotional/behavioral health specialists. Without this additional short-term funding, districts will need to rely on their local levies.  


·         Escalating costs for resources and compensation: With escalating costs, it is more expensive today to operate our schools and district compared to previous years. Our most significant resource is people and as compensation goes up, the state only funds districts for some of our staff.  Secondly, costs related to support services, such as Special Education, continue to rise. Districts do not receive adequate funding from the state or federal government to support students. Once again, districts will need to spend more out of their local levies. 


With both factors, you’ll notice a theme: school districts need to use local levy funds to fill budget holes. But there is a catch; the legislature capped the amount of money school districts can ask from their community in the form of levies. And we already use our levies to fund many crucial programs and staff. (A reminder that “levies are for learning” and can be used to fund staff and programs. Bonds can only be used for building and construction. Both levies and bonds are dependent on voter approval and districts across our state rely on these funding measures to operate.) 


So, school officials have been advocating that our legislature must provide additional funding to better support school districts and all our children. The Sequim Board of Directors has specifically been advocating with legislators for increased funding, especially in the areas of special education, staffing salary models and transportation. We are hopeful that the state will provide some relief, but I, like so many other superintendents, am balancing a desire to be optimistic with a responsibility to be practical and fiscally responsible. 


So, in summary, our district will need to plan for reductions, reprioritization, and realignments in many areas. 


I recognize that difficult budget decisions will need to be made. This year is different due to the fiscal cliff of losing COVID relief dollars and recognizing the increasing costs of everything including equipment, contracted services, materialsfuel, and personnel. It is indeed the perfect storm. 


There is, however, a pathway forward with creative thinking, acceptance of change and the commitment to prioritize our strategic planning process to establish the important goals for our future. When we focus on funding shared educational priorities for our students, we will meet our mission albeit in a fiscally constrained manner. 


Our Sequim School Board will continue to hear regular updates and recommendations from the Superintendent as we address our budgetary challenges. This Monday evening March 6th at 6:00 p.m. will be our next school board meeting. Opportunities for stakeholders to hear more about the three R’s:  reductions, reprioritization and realignments will be forthcoming. Our first such Budget Community Forum will occur on Monday March 13th at 6:00 p.m. (with childcare available) and again on Monday March 20th at 5:00 p.m. These forums will be held in-person at our Sequim High School library. 


In closing, I am interested in your ideas and feedback regarding budgeting priorities and strategic planning for the next several years. A budgeting feedback survey will be issued from our district office on Tuesday March 7th. Please be on the lookout.  


Regarding Strategic Planning, our next session is occurring on Thursday March 9th at the Guy Cole Center at Carrie Blake Park at 6:00 p.mWe would love to have you attend. We currently have an open survey to solicit your hopes and dreams for the future of our student’s education. The survey is available at: Microsoft Forms.  


Thank you for your time in reading this communication and for working together to move our district forward during these challenging times. 



Regan Nickels 


Sequim School District  

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