Lake Quinault District facing tough budget

While students have been off enjoying their first week of summer vacation, the Quinault Lake School District is tackling next year’s budget. It’s another tough one in a string of challenging budgets, largely due to plummeting student enrollment. Since 2007, enrollment has dropped by nearly half.

“When the economy went south, working families were leaving here because they had to go find jobs,” Superintendent Richard DuBois said.

That led to a drop in student population from 255 when DuBois arrived in 2007 to a projected 135 for the coming school year. The budget, DuBois said, has gone from $3.8 million to an estimated $2.8 million for 2013-14. That’s a combination of state funding based on student enrollment and federal money, both of which have dwindled significantly.

“I have lost almost $1 milion in revenue since I came here. And this is why I’ve had over the past couple of years to reduce staff, to reduce some of the things that we’re doing, but also at the same time maintain a quality education to our students. And it’s been a challenge,” DuBois said.

Another challenge has been meeting unfunded requirements for improving Lake Quinault High School, considered an “emerging” school because of difficulties meeting state benchmarks in math and reading.

“We do not receive any funding, but we have requirements we have to do to help improve, and we’ve done that. And it is working for us. We also brought in a person to do a workshop on high poverty, high performing schools, so we spent money to improve,” DuBois said.

The state Auditor’s Office has noted a dangerously low ending General Fund balance for the district in an audit looking at 2006-2008, another audit for 2009, and again in this year’s audit. From 2010-11 to 2011-12, the balance dropped more than $77,000 to $66,405.

The report noted that the balance at the end of March of this year was negative $109,285, and at one point the district was issued an interest-bearing warrant from the Grays Harbor County Treasurer’s Office for $327,000, with $379 paid in interest. DuBois noted the warrant was repaid the following month, as required.

In the audit finding issued to May 20, the report said: “The district is at risk of not being able to meet financial obligations or maintain services at its current levels. This could result in the district needing to take out bank loans or find alternate funding sources.”

DuBois said the district has since contracted with Educational Service District 113 for business management services, reduced hours for classified employees, cut one classified position and did not fill a vacancy at the elementary school after a teacher’s retirement. He’s also cut 10 days of compensation from his own contract and reduced hours for his administrative staff.

He’s optimistic that’s all the cutting the district will have to do on the personnel side for next year. It brings the total certified employees to 15, and classified to 17. About half of classified positions are funded through grants or sources outside the district, or are only part-time.

“When we run our figures based on our projected enrollement, we’ll be all right. It will be tight, but we’re heading in the right direction and starting to build back our cash reserve,” DuBois said.

DuBois said the district has been in the black the past two months, and expects to have a positive ending balance, although those numbers aren’t final yet.

“Its hard to predict. My feeling is it’s going to be over $10,000, but it’s not going to be a lot. I take this personal, it’s on my watch and I need to correct it,” he said.