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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

With new raises in employee contract, Spokane School Board agrees to spend more than it earns this school year

FILE – The Spokane Public Schools administration building photographed in 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Public Schools board approved a new operating budget Wednesday night offering a strong clue that its teachers and classified staff may soon receive significant raises.

Minutes after emerging from a 90-minute closed session, the board unanimously endorsed a budget for 2018-19 that includes $465 million in expenditures.

The number represents a sharp increase over earlier projections.

A preliminary budget presented to the board on June 27 included only $442 million in projected expenses. And two weeks ago, on Aug. 15, documents prepared for a budget-planning workshop forecast expenditures of $444 million.

However, on Tuesday the district reached a tentative agreement with the Spokane Education Association. Its terms are still undisclosed, as SEA members will hold a ratification vote Thursday night at Shadle Park High School.

During recent negotiations, the SEA had requested up to $27.7 million in state funds – the district’s entire allocation from the Legislature’s recent response to the McCleary court decision that mandated full state funding of public education.

When asked if the new budget meant the SEA was able to negotiate up to $21 million in wage increases, board members and district officials said they couldn’t comment, citing the need to protect the ratification process.

Regardless, the additional $21 million in expenses dramatically affects the district’s bottom line and creates a deficit-spending situation for the upcoming year.

Projected revenues during the budget planning process are unchanged at $452 million, which means that instead of an $8 million operating surplus, the district will be $12.6 million in the hole in 2018-19.

That shortfall will be covered by a current fund balance of $39 million. However, some board members were concerned about long-term projections of steepening deficits and the effects of the McCleary decision.

“Our picture isn’t unlike many districts around the state,” board member Deana Brower said following the vote.

The $465 million budget represents a $52.4 million hike from last year; by comparison, the 2017-18 budget was $30.5 million greater than the year before.

Of the $465 million, 85.5 percent is earmarked for employee salaries and benefits, 9 percent for purchased services and about 5 percent for supplies.

Broken down by program, $316.8 million will go toward basic and vocational education; $63 million to special education; $36 million for Title I and the Learning Assistance Program; and $27.5 million for support service operations.

Of the $452 million in revenues, $334.5 million will come from the state, an increase of $55.8 million over last year.

The budget forecast includes a projection showing that enrollment will remain stable at just under 30,000.