School Board approves controversial budget
The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board's final meeting of the school year was by far its busiest of 2017. The board approved the budget for the 2017-18 school year, awarded five different construction contracts, and gave a new policy itsstamp of approval among other items of business Monday, June 5.
While Monday's meeting was the last for Board Chair Keith Steele and member Rob Fernandez's — Ginger Fitch and Dylan Hydes will be sworn in June 30 to start four year terms — discussion surrounding the proposed budget dominated discussion. The proposed budget was a recommendation of the district's Budget Committee, which it approved for the board's review and adoption at a May 15 meeting.
The proposed budget included a general fund of $101.6 million, which was built around projected state revenue of $7.8 billion. But because the state's Joint Committee on Ways and Means passed a recommended budget of $8.2 billion earlier in the week, revenue projections now show the district will likely receive an additional $3 million in state funding, with the possibility for even more. Before the board was able to deliberate state funding developments, several members of the public testified during a public hearing period.
Incoming board member and Wilsonville resident Ginger Fitch asked why the board wouldn't include the projected $3 million of additional revenue into the budget, while West Linn resident John McCabe told the board that the community is losing trust in the district's budgeting, as WL-WV has routinely finished the year with a higher ending fund balance than predicted.
"How do we trust these numbers? We constantly hear 'We have to increase the ending fund balance.' Well that's not an option, because there are needs," McCabe said. "Let's take that $3 million and let's spend it. Let's help the many areas that need it in this school district.
"We've been told not to worry, but it's going to be extremely hard to pass another local option if people are upset come August and they see larger class sizes."
Board member Betty Reynolds said she agreed with what much of the public comments, and proposed an amendment to the proposed budget, where any additional state funding above the already budgeted general fund of $101.6 million would go into a contingency fun. She said that the board could give direction as to where those funds would be spent. She added that the district has been too conservative with its budgeting in the past, and was concerned that the district was routinely finishing the year with too high of an ending fund balance.
"When you compare the adopted budgets from the past, 2015-16, to the actuals in our proposed budget, we chronically have underestimated revenues, and it tends to go to the ending fund balance," Reynolds said. "If we put it into a contingency fund with that qualifier then it would be up to the board and give the board more control over how the money is spent, rather than going to an ending fund balance."
Reynolds was concerned that the proposed budget was built with cuts that won't be necessary when state revenue is actualized, but Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said the proposed budget would actually add 18-20 teachers while maintaining programming. Any additional state revenue, she said, would almost certainly be used for additional staffing wherever it may be needed.
"We're not cutting current teachers, so I use caution when we use the term 'cuts' because that's not necessarily what that means. In this budget it was the goal of the current staff to make an addition of 18-20 more staff, and then a conservative hold on if we could afford more staff in addition to that as we grow more confident with enrollment and those numbers change positively from the state," Ludwig said. "We budgeted and anchored at a period of time at the $7.8 billion number, the number we had from the committee of ways and means when our Budget Committee was crafting this budget. A number of districts did that."
Steele and Fernandez said putting the money in a contingency fund was an unnecessary step, as the district has routinely made additional hires ahead of the school year as state funding has become realized. They also agreed that having a somewhat healthy ending fund balance made them feel more comfortable as money gets tight in coming years.
"I look at $182 million total budget, and I don't think $3 million is an unreasonable level of balance myself, because that's a small percentage," Steele said.
Business Manager Doug Middlestetter said he always budgets conservatively, and that while the ending fund balance does routinely finish higher than estimated, it's because of responsible spending and unpredicted revenues throughout the year. He added that the future board can dictate spending with resolutions at any public meeting.
Fernandez, meanwhile, said he didn't like the idea of setting up a special contingency fund, because it discredits the decision-making of the staff.
"I think it's a matter of our trust and reliance in the staff with our oversight on those decision," Fernandez said. "So if the board doesn't think that's the case, then put it in a contingency and then tell them who to hire."
"I'm very cognizant that this community wants us to be mindful of class size ranges, wants us to be mindful of teachers, solid programs, a full school year with no cut days — all of those components," Ludwig said. "That's what I strive to do as a professional and as a superintendent, and I know the staff does as well."
Reynolds' motion failed, 4-1, and the board eventually approved the proposed budget 4-1, with Reynolds voting no.
The board also awarded construction contracts for five different capital bond projects that will take place this summer. Those projects included district-wide roofing at Rosemont Ridge Middle School, Boeckman Creek Primary, Willamette Primary and Wilsonville High School. Two separate contracts were for for special roofing work at Wood Middle School and Athey Creek Middle School, meanwhile, and a fourth construction contract was given for a reconstructed entryway at Wilsonville High. The final contract was awarded for security fencing that will be implemented at Cedaroak Park Primary.
In a final piece of business, the board approved a policy surrounding video surveillance at the district's middle and high schools. IT Director Curtis Nelson said the district planned to implement video surveillance in school entryways and general gathering areas at select schools, and that the proposed policy was a variation of what the Oregon School Boards Association recommended all school districts have. The proposed policy would authorize the use of video cameras on district property to support health, welfare and safety of staff and students, as well as safeguard district facilities and equipment.
Nelson said that while there won't be any employees actively monitoring video feeds during the school day, footage will be recorded for a period of time in case the district ever needs to investigate an incident. He added that someone would monitor video during special events when it was appropriate. The board unanimously approved the policy 5-0.
The board will reconvene Monday, June 19 for a work session — the final meeting for current board members Fernandez and Steele.