Guest Opinion: What Does State Budget Mean for Orcas Schools?

— from Orcas Island School District Business Office —

You have probably heard statements coming out of Olympia saying that the WA State Legislature has created a budget that addresses the State Supreme Court’s mandate to “amply fund public education” (aka The McCleary Decision). While many larger school districts will benefit from these changes, it is becoming clear that this new budget is a major challenge for smaller districts like Orcas Island.

The tax increases and local levy changes in this new legislation put our school district in a difficult position.

In a nutshell, locally controlled M&O levies will decrease, while state property taxes will increase, in order to fund schools statewide. That means property owners on Orcas will pay less for our local M&O levy, but more in state property tax. The overall tax burden should not increase dramatically in the next two years.  For Orcas Island public schools, however, the financial impact will be significant.

Despite promises to the contrary, this new plan falls short of fully funding our public schools. While larger school districts may benefit, stagnant revenues and increasing costs (mandated but not funded by the state) offset most of the benefit for Orcas. The funding formula is based on a  ‘typical’ school district and does not address our unique needs: our small size, our innovative programs, or our island location. We are a ‘square peg’ that the state expects to fit into a ‘round hole’.

For example, the state formula allocates funding for fewer than 25 percent or our classified staff. This partial allocation doesn’t even cover the cost of all of our para-educators, who assist our most vulnerable students, let alone [cover] our office staff, nurse, librarian, social worker, athletic director, custodians, and maintenance personnel. We are forced to pay for the rest of staff using our limited levy dollars.

We may not fit the state’s mold, but we can be proud of many of our differences:

  • US News and World Report ranked Orcas Island High School 8th within Washington and #452 in the National Rankings, earning a gold medal.
  • We continue to have higher than average graduation rates and a large percentage of our graduates receive scholarships for college
  • We offer innovative, unique and engaging programs
  • We operate an extensive and respected alternative school

Our mission remains clear: Orcas Island School District is committed to partner with families and community to provide each student with a well-rounded education in a nurturing environment. We will foster academic excellence and creative expression, while inspiring successful future endeavor and productive community involvement.

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