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Extracurricular activities safe for now amid Mukilteo school budget shortfalls

MUKILTEO, Wash., June 22, 2023—In light of the Mukilteo School District’s $24 million budget shortfall next year, some Kamiak students have expressed concerns how this would affect teacher and staff attrition as well as the availability of funds for extracurricular activities.

While Kamiak’s allotted portion of the $24 million reduction is yet to be determined, the district has already taken steps to address the impending budgetary constraints. 

Kamiak High School, though technically still in a spending freeze, is still paying for ongoing expenditures such as salaries for staff. Over the summer, business services compiles and reviews all of the expenditures for the Mukilteo School District to propose a budget for the next school year.

Mukilteo school budget
Stephen Shurtleff

Kamiak’s Principal, Stephen Shurtleff, assures students and families that the school has a plan in place, but because the budget shortfall reaches into so many different areas, his administration is still developing their plan to mitigate the impacts to students and families.

An important aspect of understanding the schools budget would be knowing that the money that Kamiak spends fits into big ‘buckets’ or categories. And so next year’s budget shortfall would only affect the general bucket, which would include things like staffing and classes. The budget shortfall projected for the upcoming year will not result in any budget cuts for the Associated Student Body (ASB) bucket that pays for outside school activities and dances. Next year, the price of the ASB card is not set to increase, despite overall prices in Mukilteo going up, which could have an indirect effect on Kamiak High School. 

Performing Arts, on the other hand, is a different bucket. The majority of funding for performing arts goes toward paying staff salaries, which comes from the school’s General Fund. As for the funding of extracurricular activities related to performing arts, it comes from the ASB and booster organizations.

Both ASB and the booster organizations have the ability to fundraise any additional funds needed. This leads into the question of why the district wouldn’t just double down on fundraising to make up the $24 million difference in the next year’s budget by doing bake sales or by making dances and school activities more expensive. Let’s face it, not many students would be keen with $250 dance tickets and $100 cupcakes. However, while students can go to fundraise for their activities, the district unfortunately cannot.

Without any ways to fundraise the remaining difference, the district has been left to determine which areas would be then affected by next year’s shortfall. First they looked at operational costs, searching for services and supplies that they could reduce without jeopardizing day to day operations. 

The district found $7.5 million worth of operational budget items like survey tools and software that they could remove. They then looked at vacated positions where staff had either resigned or retired, and determined which could go without filling the position. Eventually, they looked at staff, both certified positions like teachers and specialists, as well as classified positions. The school has district rules that it follows in situations like the one present, in order to determine which staff personnel get released. In this case, Kamiak would look at both seniority, how long they’ve worked in the district, as well as flexibility, the areas in which they can teach. 

“I just would love to make sure that families know and students know it is nothing personal. It doesn’t reflect [anything] about their capabilities or the job that they’re doing. It just sometimes really comes down to the math of who has more years versus not, that’s how it’s set up to decide those things,” Communications and Public Relations Director Diane Bradford told the Lynnwood Times. 

And though court cases like McCleary v. Washington were meant to help the school districts, it only added to the increasing budget gap over the years. At the time, it was a win for districts in the sense that it helped pay for staff salaries. But a catch to the funding was that every year, the funding would go down by two percent. Even though the money that the schools have been receiving from the state have been going down, salaries and costs for everything else have been going up. Part of the McCleary case also changed the way school districts collect levies, another source of funding for the district. The McCleary decision capped the amount of money schools could receive from levies, making it so they could only ask for a certain dollar amount per student.

Through both this current situation, and the district’s prior budget cuts about a decade ago, the district has tried to keep the interests of the students and families first and foremost. The district created a “Thought Exchange” earlier this year to ask students, family members, staff, and community to help identify what would be the most important things to keep in mind while going through the budget process. The district then took the top ten common ideas or ‘themes’ that were brought up, then put them into another survey for participants to rank them. 

School Board President Judy Schwab, who was present during the prior budget shortfall shared that it was the “mission [of the district to keep the] ‘Success for Every Student,’ at the center of our decisions. […] We heard loud and clear that sustaining academics and access to student activities was the number one priority, and that has guided our work.” She also noted that the District and Board would continue to advocate with the legislature for full funding. The response that the District has received has been mixed, but many have responded with, “How can I help?”

“I think that realistically, one of the most important things that we are going to need from people is to recognize that we’re always trying to do as much as we can with what we have to serve our students,” Kamiak Principal Shurtleff told the Lynnwood Times. “And any change at all in our resources is going to change some part of the experience that our kids have, and we’re doing everything we can to limit the effect of that.” 

Shurtleff advised that parents can help by supporting their booster programs such as PTO or PTA, or just dedicating some time to volunteering in a school. Bradford emphasized the need for the public to share “factual information” about the district’s budget constraints and not succumb to rumors and misinformation.  She encourages any student or parent with questions to reach out directly to either their school’s principal or the Mukilteo School District.

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