Budget troubles on the horizon for Renton schools

Shortfalls could mean future changes to staff and district spending

Big challenges are ahead for the Renton School District financially.

The district maintains it will be able to hold off cuts to teaching staff this year, but a difficult budget shortfall does call for either cuts or new revenue soon, according to staff.

This came up at the Preliminary Budget Hearing for the 2019-20 Renton School District budget, at the June 12 school board meeting.

For the first time in five years, the school district was unable to balance the budget. Instead, the general fund had about an $8.25 million shortfall.

Carrying over $6 million unanticipated revenue and some savings made by the district last year will help with the shortfall and keep from making cuts, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Susan Smith Leland said.

Recent legislative action, including changes to the school funding formula and restrictions to collecting tax monies, led the district to decide to set aside money this school year.

“Recent legislative action in both special-ed and access to levy funds deal very little in new revenue for Renton,” Smith Leland said, adding they were one of six school districts who saw little revenue from that.

Similarly to the budget information session held a few weeks ago, Smith Leland said there will be “strategic reductions” to staff throughout the year to prepare for the challenges in the 2020-21 school year.

The district developed a two-year restoration plan back in 2015, due to concern from former Superintendent Art Jarvis and school board members about the low ending fund balance.

The big challenges ahead of the district include a continual loss of ending fund balance. While the district saw an increase ending fund balance in their projections for 2019-20 and 2020-21, the new projection for 2021-22 shows the district in the negative, with a loss of $204,470.

Things will need to happen during the 2019-20 school year to stop the continual shortfall, Smith Leland said.

“I know through this there’s going to be choices that have to be made, and there’s always the potential of additional revenues in a couple of different ways,” Smith Leland said. “We still have possibilities, and we’ll work with both our legislators and make internal changes that need to be made.”

Restoration plans wouldn’t go into affect until after the 2019-20 school year, and the district could see where it’s at, Smith Leland said.

The levy collection that was approved for the school district was also rolled back, which shows a decreasing tax rate for property owners from $461 per $100,000 of taxable property value in 2018, to $328 per $100,000 of taxable property value in 2020, depending on if a future bond issue is passed in November 2019 or February 2020.

The capital projects fund, with anticipating a future bond item after it recently failed to pass in February, estimates spending $45.6 million and collecting $51.8 million. The debt service fund will spend $27 million and collect $25.5 million.

Associated Student Body Fund has been continuously declining over the years, and will continue to do so in 2019-20, with a beginning and ending fund balance of about $1.05 million. Transportation fund will be down next year after the authorization of transition to some more accessible buses, Smith Leland said.

Nobody offered public comment at the preliminary budget meeting. The final budget hearing will be June 26, updated with any final challenges.

The budget will then go to the school board directors for approval.

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