Kent School Board approves district budget with strong fund balance

COVID-19, however, could impact budget later in the school year

The numbers are looking good so far for the Kent School District 2020-2021 general fund with a projected ending fund balance of $47 million, but COVID-19 economic impacts could hamper the budget later this year or early next year.

The Kent School Board unanimously approved the 2020-2021 general fund operating budget of $440.5 million at its Aug. 26 meeting, a $19 million or 4.8% increase from last year. The increases in spending are covered by approval in February by voters of the district’s two-year Educational Program & Operations Levy. The district also received more money from the state.

“We are retaining a fund balance and keeping positive revenue,” Ben Rarick, executive director of budget and finance for the school district, told the board at its virtual meeting. “We will have a bond (rating) review in fall and winter and we are hoping to see our first significant rating increase as we have demonstrated stability in our fund balance.”

Moody’s gave the district an A rating last year, which means obligations are judged to be upper-medium grade and are subject to low credit risk. The highest ratings are Aaa and Aa, which means obligations are judged to be of high quality and are subject to the lowest credit risk or very low credit risk.

Three years ago the district had a negative fund balance of nearly $7 million. Mistakes in enrollment projections and financial calculations led to budgeting decisions that the district couldn’t support, according to district officials. The district cut staff over the next couple of years, reduced costs and used a interfund loan to help balance the budget and eventually create a fund balance.

“We are not in that place anymore and not even close to that place,” Rarick said. “You have overseen a significant change.”

Rarick, however, cautioned the five-member board that COVID-19 could impact the 2020-2021 budget down the road.

“What we are about to go through with virtual learning is a game changer for what it means to the district,” he said. “My job is to be worried. I am very worried. We are strong financially but the scenarios with the pandemic will hit all districts. …We may not be (in good shape).”

A major concern looms around what the Legislature does about a predicted $8.8 billion shortfall due to the economic impact of COVID-19 to state revenue from sales taxes and other sources. Potential cuts by the state could mean less funds for school districts.

“There are not any specifics about what might be cut,” Rarick said.

Transportation funding from the state to pay bus drivers could be one cut. So far, Kent and other districts are paying drivers with state funds and using buses to supply food for the free pickups. But if students stay in remote learning for much of the school year a reduction in drivers is anticipated.

School enrollment numbers also could decline if more parents decide to teach their own children or if they can afford it, maybe switch to a private school or private tutors.

“We project a small enrollment decline for the coming year, about 299 students,” Rarick said, with kindergarten numbers especially down compared to other years.

The 1% decrease in enrollment is reflected in the budget.

The district had 27,467 students during the 2019-2020 year. The state uses enrollment numbers on the first day of October each year to determine funding for each district.

“We will monitor in the fall student enrollment to see how many leave or come,” Rarick said.

If budget adjustments are needed during the school year, the board will be able to address deficits even with the adoption of this budget.

Teachers get new contract

The board voted unanimously to approve a new two-year contract agreement with the Kent Education Association (KEA) to run from Sept. 1, 2020 through Aug. 31, 2022. KEA membership ratified the contract on Aug. 24.

Teachers will get a 5% salary increase for year one and a 1% plus any inflationary increase for year two. That could make for an increase of 2.9% in 2o21-2022, according to the KEA based on an inflationary hike of 1.9%.

Annual salaries for teachers in 2020-2021 will range from $59,230 for a first-year instructor with no additional credit earned hours up to $113,000 for a teacher with 25 years of experience and the maximum additional master’s degree credit hours. Salaries are based on experience plus bachelor’s or master’s credit hours earned by the teachers during their career.

The district expects to have 2,013 certificated full-time equivalent employees (teachers, nurses, counselors) in 2020-2021 and 1,123 classified employees for a total of 3,137, up 324 from 2,813 in 2019-2020.

New schools

Construction has started on two new schools in the district, scheduled to open in fall 2021.

Voters approved a bond measure in 2016 that will pay for an estimated $58.2 million new elementary school on the West Hill at 22420 Military Road S., the former site of Kent Mountain View Academy.

The measure also will pay $43.8 million for a new school at the former Panther Lake Elementary site, on the southwest corner of 108th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 208th Street, that will house Kent Phoenix Academy and Kent Mountain View Academy as the district will move both schools to the same site.

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