Each month, Dr. Zorn reaches out to our business community via the Kelso Longview Chamber of Commerce newsletter with information about the successes and challenges of our public schools.

When the legislature passed a new state budget at the end of June, Longview, and other Washington public schools, began experiencing a sea change in the way our education system is funded.

It’s still early, and many parts of the legislation won’t take effect for a couple of years, but Longview is continuing to learn about the immediate- and long-term changes coming.

For the coming school year, the district will see some funding increases for smaller class sizes, vocational classes, special education, extra help for struggling readers, and cost-of-living raises for employees who are paid for by the state—not those paid by local levy taxes. These are positive changes, but it is worth noting that Longview continues to serve students requiring special education services in numbers beyond the current or projected state allocations. Also, all state salary schedule increases for employees beyond those included in the state funding models will continue to be paid for by local levy money.

Fast forward to the 2018-2019 school year, and additional changes to the way the state funds our employee salaries. At that time, the state will begin a two-year transition to a new statewide average salary allocation replacing the existing education and years of service formula for teachers. While this change does not take effect until the 2018-2019 school year, the contract negotiations currently underway with our teachers must comply with the new law.

The allocation also provides adjustments for regional cost-of-living differences —which could further impact our local school’s ability to attract and retain teachers to work in our reasonably-priced area.

All of this is based on a revised funding model which puts the cost for basic education onto state-level taxes and restricts local school levies to “enhancements” which must be approved by the state starting in 2019. Initial and rough calculations using current tax collections figure that Longview School District taxpayers stand to save roughly 95 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation for state and local school taxes starting in 2019.

The district’s current local “maintenance and operations” levy expires at the end of 2018. The school board of directors will weigh its actions as it moves into next February’s replacement levy election and determines its request to be put on the ballot for voters to consider as an enhancement levy. Enhancements might include extracurricular activities, courses beyond what is considered basic or minimum, and additional professional development.

Meanwhile, the district is moving forward with crafting its 2017-2018 school year budget with the best information we can get in this time of dramatic changes. While a preliminary budget is currently available for public review, we are expecting more information forthcoming from the state and the ability to refine the budget in time for our August 14 public hearing and August 28 formal adoption by our board of directors.

We’ll continue to work hard to continue to be the best stewards possible of the public dollars entrusted to us to focus our financial priorities on our students and the district’s main goal to increase our students’ achievement levels.