Hoquiam dealing with shrinking enrollment

The Hoquiam School District presented a preliminary budget for the 2013-2014 school year at a special meeting this week.

The document is a draft summary of each of the district’s funds. Due to stalled budget negotiations in the state Legislature, school funding levels were unclear until June 30 and that delayed the local budget process a bit, said assistant superintendent Shannon Webster.

“We didn’t have all the information so we were kind of going on estimates, or best guesses,” said Webster.

The total Hoquiam schools budget comes to about $17.96 million, about 15 million of which is directed toward salaries and benefits.

“It’s a significant portion of our budget, 83-84 percent (of it) this year,” said Webster. She said there were no layoffs in the budget, but a transfer will bring one teacher from Central Elementary to Lincoln Elementary due to enrollment shifts.

“We’re able to keep our student-focused initiatives moving forward, and we didn’t have to cut into any sacred areas that are really important in the classroom,” she said. Legislative budget decisions will allow the district to be 100 percent funded for all-day kindergarten (where they had previously only received about 80 percent), and supplied them with about $100,000 in additional funds for transportation operational costs. The district was also able to add some para-educator positions.

The district expects to spend about $40,000 more than it brings in revenue-wise, a conservative estimate in comparison to the 2012-13 year in which it ended with a deficit of about $580,000.

“Revenues have remained fairly steady but enrollment has decreased a good amount,” said Webster, who emphasized that the district’s greatest concern continues to be enrollment. She said they are seeing an overall decline and the loss of students is mostly at the secondary level.

“A couple of years ago I projected the high school to be below 500, and now it could possibly be below 400 (by the end of the year) … it’s declining at a very fast rate,” she said, adding the high school usually loses between 50 and 100 students each year. The board discussed the impact of such declining rates, and their imperative to work on maintaining students.

“We need to keep kids in school, need to do everything we can to keep them in school because the budget is based on that. … The other part of course, is you don’t want kids dropping out and doing nothing,” said District Superintendent Mike Parker at the special meeting Monday. He said five or six years ago the district came up with its Homelink online schooling “as a safety net to keep kids in school,” but nothing has really worked to the degree they would like in keeping kids in school. He said much of it may be economy based, but that they continue to work to consider how they might persuade students to finish out their secondary education.

The number of students effects the budget because the district is awarded state funds based on enrollment. by the state for general apportionment, as the basis for certain grants, and in terms of funding dollars per teacher at each grade level determined by the class size. When students are lost throughout the year, that funding level goes down, said Webster.

In the proposed spending plan, the district would forgo buying a bus until next year. “We are scheduled to purchase in the fall of 2014,” said Webster. She said after looking at revenue and expenditure predictions, they decided to hold off but that none of their buses are in dire need of being replaced at this time. “We try to keep our fleet as up to date as possible,” she said.

A comprehensive copy of the budget will be presented at the board’s regular meeting on July 18.

To view Hoquiam School District’s 2013-14 budget visit the district website at hoquiam.schoolwires.net.