After a storm of online rumors, and circulation of a genuine response from an employee of the Washington State Office of The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Aberdeen School District Superintendent Dr. Alicia Henderson has issued the following statement, which she said she also plans to include in her update this afternoon. The email response to a parent of an Aberdeen student did not include the original questions, but statements in response, and is included after Henderson’s update.

Henderson said Friday evening that she spoke with OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal at length Friday and she said that she felt the OSPI letter was misleading, “The message in this letter says there’s no reason for school districts to assume a reduction next year. I am in multiple sessions every single week with state and budget experts, including experts from OSPI who consistently give the same message to budget conservatively because there will be reductions, and that is a consistent message. So I was very surprised to see this to one of our community members because it’s so misleading. Case in point the LEA was reduced today.”

After our interview I’m going to post each reply to each OSPI statement that is not repeated in the letter, then Henderson’s Weekly update followed by the original statement from OSPI.

1. During the Covid pandemic this school year, all school districts continue to receive their state funding. There has not been a drop in state funding levels.

Henderson said Friday afternoon, “This was true up until today because we did get notification that the state is $11-million short this year to pay our LEA for this year.”

A letter to school districts across the state from the OSPI explained that “We have completed analysis on the FY 2020 supplemental budget appropriations. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a position of needing to short pay districts in Local Effort Assistance (LEA) revenue. There are 176 districts impacted by this short pay,” Michelle Matakas, Director of School Apportionment and Financial Services at OSPI continued in the letter “Amounts short paid will be made up in the July apportionment payment process. A complete list of district by district impacts will be made available at the same time May apportionment reports are posted.”

4. Almost every school district (including Aberdeen) will receive additional federal Covid response funds.

Asked if she had any details yet on this, Henderson said that book has many chapters. For instance, the federal CARES Act, which to schools is actually a reimbursement, Henderson said, “You have to claim the money by submitting your receipts for COVID-related expenses.” So the districts see no money until they’ve spent enough to be reimbursed. She also noted, “It’s very specific, it’s one-time funding, and the wording that goes along with it is that it’s for COVID-19 response and preparedness for this current year.” She paraphrased the act adding, “it says ‘one-time funds should not be commited to financial obligations,’ and it is for, ‘response and preperation only for COVID-19’ well anyway, for Aberdeen, it looks like it’s 117-million, which is great, and we need it. Because we have some COVID expenses right now that are getting right up to that amount.”

Henderson said the district has multiple daily expenses including most of their previous. They also continue to provide meals, “We are currently in the hole, a shortfall of $425-thousand, just for providing the meals since March 17th,” And that number grows daily, while some of the program is receiving outside contributions from local and state agencies, it is still staffed by the district’s food service program.

Then there’s technology. Henderson said that the district, along with every district across the state, had to switch to distance learning with very little rollout time. “We’ve been giving one device to every student. We have a number of repairs and replacements, and this is a huge expense that was not budgeted, then we also have this deep cleaning stuff that we have to do and preparation for getting the PPE supplies and equipment.” Henderson said she is also concerned that federal funds could be recalled by the state.

Superintendent Update (Friday, May 15, 2020)

This has been a very difficult few weeks in the Aberdeen School District. As you know, we’ve been planning for a reduced education program in order to balance the budget. The most significant reductions are being felt in areas not considered Basic Education by the state – our Skills Center, music, and P.E. programs, along with the loss of a counselor at the high school.

The community’s concerns are being heard. As superintendent, I also accept the fiduciary responsibility to maintain solvency during difficult times. Many, many hours have been spent with the School Board, attending sessions hosted by state and regional budget experts, as well as sharing information with our Budget Advisory Committee before implementing the reduced education plan for 2020-2021.

There have been questions as to whether the plan is too conservative. Let’s hope so. We cannot afford for it to be otherwise. If we have been too conservative, we can carefully and strategically bring our valuable programs back.

As you know, Aberdeen has been treading water financially for a long time. The state’s new funding model, “the McCleary Fix,” was supposed to help. Instead, there’s just a different set of funding inequities that hit property-poor districts like us the hardest. As your superintendent, I took a lead role in appealing to the Legislature to fix the unfair funding model. Dozens of districts from around the state joined us. Our Budget Advisory Committee and School Board members attended hearings, wrote letters and made phone calls. We were not successful.

This year, our enrollment unexpectedly declined. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating everything. Economists are forecasting a severe recession. Governor Jay Inslee has ordered state agencies to prepare for budget cuts of 15 percent.

Districts that have steady enrollment and healthy reserves can wait longer to make adjustments. WE can’t. For example, in December we needed to take out an interest-bearing loan just to pay our bills until our apportionment arrived from the state in January.

So what can we assume?
We can assume we will still receive funding for Basic Education because it is constitutionally protected. We must assume that other sources of funding will be impacted by the national crisis.

Because of our low fund balance and declining enrollment, we do not have the luxury of taking any risks on funding that is awarded at the Legislature’s discretion, such as Local Effort Assistance (LEA), which boosts our enrichment levy.

That said, our budget assumptions are constantly being monitored and adjusted when new information provides evidence to adjust. For now, we needed to meet the May 15 deadline to offer teachers their contracts.

This is the second year in a row that we have had to make significant reductions. Last year, we reduced by $4.5 million. For 2020-2021, we need to find more than $6 million.

Despite all of this, we will continue to have the richest music program in the region and are exploring outside funding. Just as important as music is our Skills Center. We are exploring just as many options for bringing back the medical careers and culinary program. It is a strong priority to restore a counseling position at the high school.

The amount of misinformation circulating in the community is frustrating. For example, yesterday a state official told one of our parents that “there is no reason for school districts to assume a reduction next year in state funding.” I strongly disagree, as do many leading economists, who are predicting the state will exhaust its $3 billion “rainy-day” fund and experience more than $4 billion in revenue shortfalls.

I don’t know of any superintendent who would risk the wrath of their community and make such deep cuts to valued programs unless they had done the research and developed the data that it is absolutely necessary.

Please take a few moments to visit the district web site where there is more information in the form of FAQs to answer many of your questions.

There is no way to sugar coat this state of affairs. It is difficult for everyone involved. We need to stay the course if we are to remain solvent. I hear incredible stories about other tough times that our community has weathered. We have a resourceful and innovative staff. I am confident that on the other side of this great challenge, the Aberdeen School District will be stronger than ever.

Sincerely,
Alicia Henderson

https://www.asd5.org/cms/lib/WA01001311/Centricity/Domain/1402/4-16-20.pdf

OSPI Response

The email response to a parent of an Aberdeen student did not include the original questions, but statements in response, and is included below:

I want to thank you for reaching out to Superintendent Reykdal. He asked me to reach out to you.
I left you a brief phone message and am happy to receive a call from you.
We have been hearing about recent communication from Aberdeen school district.
There are a few items that should help provide some context.

  1. During the Covid pandemic this school year, all school districts continue to receive their state funding. There has not been a drop in state funding levels.
  2. At this time, there is no reason for school districts to assume a reduction next year in state funding (but see point #5 and #6). This includes both the funding that is legally defined as basic education (which is protected from budget reductions) and the additional funding from the state that is non-basic education funding (which could be potentially reduced).
  3. At this time, there is no reason for school districts to assume a loss of their state funded Local Effort Assistance (LEA) Funding. (LEA funds come from the state and are provided in proportion to the local school levy.)
  4. Almost every school district (including Aberdeen) will receive additional federal Covid response funds.
  5. The number of students enrolled in a district does impact the level of state funding. (A school with 1,000 students receives more money from the state than a school with 200 students.)
  6. It is unclear why Aberdeen assumes a 8.8% reduction in student enrollment for the fall. This amounts to 290 students. As a rule of thumb, the district receives $12,000 per student from the state. If Aberdeen does lose 290 students that amounts to a reduction of roughly $3.5 million (which the state will send to the school district(s) where those 290 students would be attending).

I hope this information is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have additional questions.
Warm Regards,
Dave Mastin, J.D.
He/him/his
Executive Leadership Team
Executive Director, Government Relations
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)
600 Washington Street SE | Olympia, WA 98504-2700 | P.O. Box 47200
Office: (360) 725-6311
Cell: (360) 485-8333