School district losing students, funding


April 26, 2023

La Conner Schools will have to make do with less in the 2023-2024 academic year. District officials were facing that as they begin crafting next year’s budget at their April 10 board study session.

Declining enrollment, a smaller than anticipated apportionment of federal impact aid monies and the loss of emergency COVID-19-related funds will result in significant spending cuts, district finance director David Cram predicted in a report to school board members.

“We’re looking at a $1.5 million reduction in spending to get to a $500,000 fund balance,” said Cram. A fund balance equal to 10% of the district’s annual budget is board policy. The reserve target this year is $1.4 million. Due to post-pandemic fiscal conditions, said Cram, it will likely take the district two to three years to reach that amount.

Cram is projecting $109,383 for this year’s end fund balance.

He forecasts a ’23-24 K-12 full-time enrollment of 490, down from 510, a 4% drop.

“You have a large class graduating from high school this year and a small eighth grade class coming in,” Cram explained.

The district enrolled around 700 students in the early 2000s. There were about 600 students attending when COVID-19 struck in March 2020.

Enrollment is an important driver of state funding to local school districts. Cram said the district receives $11,300 per pupil.

“This is not a La Conner problem,” Board President Susie Deyo stressed. “Enrollment is down everywhere,” noting the issue is even more dire for urban school systems such as Everett, Bellevue, Olympia and Seattle.

Cram said it unlikely the district will set aside $200,000 for capital projects, as it has in previous years.

Inflation is also an issue with costs for supplies, materials, contractual services, school bus fuel and utilities up and staff salaries and benefits representing about 85% of district expenditures, Cram said.

Increasing enrollment increases state funding. Board members and district administrators met with the Conway School District board and administrators April 17 and pitched graduating eighth graders from that unaligned school system to attend the high school.

District officials stressed academic and extracurricular programs La Conner can offer Conway students and options to transport them here.

Daily attendance is also an enrollment issue. School officials were receptive to a proposal from middle and high school principal Christine Tripp for a district community engagement board to address excessive student absences.

In other school board business:

* Assistant volleyball coach Pam Keller will succeed Suzanne Marble, retiring after a 30-year career.

*The board accepted a $150 donation from Linden Jordan in support of campus libraries.

* Deyo reported that the district had received correspondence from an Orcas Island resident praising La Conner baseball and softball players and coaches for having helped load bags onto a ferry bound for Anacortes.


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