The COVID-19 pandemic has officially hit the bottom line at Spokane Public Schools, whose board members received more evidence Wednesday night that they may soon need to declare a financial emergency.
Down the road, that means the district would abandon earlier plans to restore some of the programs and personnel lost in last year’s budget cuts.
On Wednesday, board members and about 130 other Zoom attendees were told that because of the coronavirus pandemic, projections for the district’s end-of-year fund balance fell by $1.8 million from January to March.
That means the district expects to have $24.4 million in its unrestricted fund balance at the end of this school year, down from $26.2 million projected in January.
That’s within the acceptable 5% to 6% range set by the state. The latest projection for next year, however, assuming current staffing levels with no additional help from the Legislature, calls for a $7.9 million deficit.
That would drop the district’s fund balance to $16.5 million, or 3.6% of a $472 million budget. That isn’t far removed from plans adopted three months ago to restore some earlier cuts, including secondary librarians and the restoration of full-day elementary instruction on Fridays.
That was before the financial repercussions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which will lead to $5 billion to $8 billion in losses at the state level and possibly heavy revenue cuts for public education.
The unknowns are the biggest frustration.
As board member Kevin Morrison noted, the district is facing several variables going into its next budget cycle, including the national and state political landscape and future costs associated with the coronavirus – especially potential losses of revenue from sales and property taxes.
“We also don’t know what the social, emotional and academic needs are going to be” when students return to classrooms, Morrison said.
“There are still so many unknowns out there, and we’re doing the best we can,” Morrison said.
Board member Nikki Lockwood noted the loss of learning opportunities for all students, but especially those in low-income homes.
“But with so much uncertainty, we’ll have to make some decisions for the long term,” Lockwood said.
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