Federal Way postpones first day of school to Sept. 8

District is preparing for a possible $22.6M revenue loss due to declining enrollments, reduction in funding.

The first day of school for Federal Way students will now be Tuesday, Sept. 8, the school board voted on Tuesday night.

Previously, the first day of the 2020-2021 school year was set for Sept. 2. FWPS School Board members at their Aug. 11 meeting approved pushing back the first day until after the Labor Day holiday. Grades 1-12 begin Sept. 8, and the first day of kindergarten is Friday, Sept. 11.

“This allows time for scholars, parents and teachers to prepare for the remote learning schedule, time for online registration, school schedule distribution, orientation, parent workshops and staff professional development,” the district announced Wednesday morning.

To make this change, the district did not extend the end of the school year. Instead, FWPS converted previous non-student days into instructional days.

The three days used to modify the start date were two snow days (Feb. 12 and May 28) and the district professional development day of March 12.

During a public hearing of the 2020-2021 budget prior to the board’s adoption, Chief Finance and Operations Officer Sally McLean outlined how the virus has threatened enrollment.

About 7% of families said they do not intend to send their students back to traditional schools, and about 12% of families are undecided about having their students return to school, McLean said. This information based on a survey conducted in June, and McLean acknowledged the survey was taken “prior to the current spike in COVID-19.”

Kindergarten registrations have also dropped about 20% overall, or 1% of the total FWPS population, which represents about 221 students, McLean said.

FWPS receives $9,400 per full-time student, based on a state requirement of 180 days and an average of 1,027 hours of instructional time. A student must be enrolled and actively participating in order to be claimed for funding.

“So what that means for us if we think about a 1% drop in enrollment … roughly equal to what we’re talking about with the kindergarten registration, that’s a loss in revenue of about $2.1 million,” McLean said.

A possible 5% drop — which is less than what parents were indicating in June — would be about 1,100 students or about a $10.4 million loss. A possible 10% drop — which is more than what parents indicated in June — would be about 2,210 students or about a $20.8 million loss in revenue.

“Both the $10.4 million and the $20.8 million are significant reductions in revenue in a school year that is already underway,” McLean said. “It’s one thing if you can plan for it in advance. It’s another thing if you’re trying to absorb that cost during the school year.”

In addition, FWPS is preparing for a $6 million loss in transportation revenue because the district is beginning the school year remotely. Funding is based on the prior year’s ridership, and with the emergency cancellation of school in March, the district’s ridership was only counted for fall and winter.

The district is planning for a potential $22.6 million loss due to declining enrollments (anticipating 8% or a $16.6 million impact) and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s estimate of a $6 million transportation loss.

To mitigate this possible financial downfall, the district has prepared an Economic Stabilization Fund of $11 million, which came from taking deliberate money-saving strategies in the spring.

The district could also reduce the fund balance below the current policy, which may release another $7.3 million, McLean said.

“That still does leave us out of balance if we see [these] losses as currently projected with a $4.3 million opportunity to find additional reductions during a school year that is already underway,” she said.

The Federal Way School Board unanimously approved at Tuesday’s virtual meeting the 2020-2021 budget, which includes a $371 million general fund, $3.5 million Associated Student Body fund, $34.9 debt service fund, $237.29 million capital projects fund and $1.5 million transportation vehicle fund.

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