by Thomas Baldwin
Orcas Island School District finds itself in a novel situation, distinct from what has been business as usual for years. It actually has money that will allow it to develop a budget for the 2018–19 academic year that does not include layoffs, temporary or otherwise. Further, it has been instructed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop a budget for the next four years that demonstrates a pathway to “sustainability.”
As a “citizen member” of the Budget Advisory Committee for the school district, and a recent full-time resident of Orcas Island, I have been surprised to learn of the budget difficulties that public education in Washington has had to deal with over the years. The new reality, derived from the legislative fix to the McCleary decision, is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is not without risk. When one has been faced with difficult budgetary constraints for a long period of time, an influx of cash often leads to a sense of euphoria, but we cannot give in to the urge to spend beyond our means. As the school district begins work to develop a sound budget for the next four years, all stakeholders really must use great caution. The new funding mechanisms adopted by the state legislature in March are substantially different from the past, and answers to many of the district’s questions, such as the meaning of “sustainability,” are not yet available from OSPI.
Because the new funding mechanisms are not yet fully understood, even by the OSPI, the consequences of today’s budgetary decisions cannot be projected with confidence. Decisions made today can, and will, have an impact on the availability of funding for the future.
As the district moves toward financial stability, it is important that they do so with great caution, as there are no safety nets. The state has pushed the money out to the districts, and it is up to the districts to live within their means. If the district overcommits this year, the resulting problems will only grow during subsequent years. Therefore, it will be prudent for OISD to move forward with caution, being sure to focus on what is required to deliver a great education to our kids. After all, that is the mission of our public education system.