Longview School District is proposing a $109 million budget and is ready to hear community members’ reactions in Monday’s public hearing.
The school board is set to finalize the budget Aug. 22 during the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Despite higher expenses and low enrollment, the district is expecting to break even using revenue from local levy dollars, general state funds and federal COVID-19 relief funding received through ESSER, or the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
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“We’re able to present a balanced budget by using those ESSER dollars to stabilize the revenue shortfall that would be coming because of the enrollment drops we’ve seen,” said Patti Bowen, executive director of business services, during a budget presentation last months.
In 2021-22, the state gave stabilization funding to cover the loss of full-time students enrolled in the district. Bowen said the Longview School District was not eligible for this because the district got federal dollars through ESSER.
“Enrollment is our largest revenue driver,” Bowen said. “Average FTE (full-time enrollment) is what we’re funded on for the full year.”
Most of the district’s funding-per-student comes from the state, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s district report card. According to data from the district, Longview schools are reporting some of the lowest enrollment rates since 2010-11.
The district lost about 350 of its roughly 6,400 students between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years, according to data from the school district. Since 2010, the only other non-pandemic years where enrollment dipped below 6,300 were in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
According to district data, Longview schools are predicting about 70 students will come back at the start of the upcoming school year. The return will not match the enrollment in 2019, which had been at 6,488 students before the pandemic.
It’s difficult for the district to identify why students are leaving, where they went instead and whether enrollment will come back to previous levels. Bowen said students could have moved away or taken up homeschooling, and projections about upcoming enrollment could change.
What the district spends its money on in the upcoming school year will remain the same, but how much has changed. The biggest increases in spending are projected to go toward basic and special education programs.
Bowen said inflation and supply chain delays have driven a rise in nutrition and transportation expenses in the district, with the district set to spend about $640,000 more on these support services during 2022-23 than during 2021-22.
The district also expects to lose about $3.1 million in revenue from district grants and non-basic education programs during 2022-23, according to school board documents.
Still, Bowen said with the one-time ESSER boost that can be spent before September 2024, they do not anticipate losing money.
However, the next four years could pose a financial problem if the district does not adjust expenses and enrollment does not come back. The district anticipates its total ending fund balance would go from $9.65 million at the end of the 2023 school year to $3.28 million by the end of the 2025 school year.
“This is not a surprise, we knew going into this we were going to be struggling,” said board member Jennifer Leach. “I think the ESSER funds gave us a little bit of a buffer for a while, so I think we just have to keep looking at a year to year.”
Superintendent Dan Zorn said they will continue to work on balancing the budget, noting the four-year forecasts show a general but not concrete trend that assumes the district will continue operations exactly as it always has.
“We fully recognize there is work to do as we move forward on this,” Zorn said during the board meeting. “There are a lot of things that can impact revenue and expenditures between now and then.”