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District finalizes $39.5 million budget for 08-09

The Mercer Island School District budget is in good shape for the coming year — that is, if energy costs stay within bounds and initial enrollment numbers remain steady.

The nearly $40 million budget, up about five percent from 2007-2008 numbers, was approved by the School Board on Aug. 28 and sent to Olympia last week.

Revenues received by the district from the state are forecast to increase about $2 million over the 2007-2008 school year. That amount will be offset by a similar increase in the expected amount of expenditures in the district. The district’s general fund shows revenues received from state, federal and local funds of $39,524,545 and expenditures for the coming term at $39,381,642, leaving just $142,900 remaining.

The district could have spent a good deal more.

In order to balance the budget for this school year, cuts were made, explained Liz Dodd, assistant superintendent for business services. “The cuts were from both the instructional side and the business and support sides of the district,” Dodd said.

Advocates for the school district have asked the City of Mercer Island to fully fund school counselors. The city now provides much of the funding through its Youth and Family Services Department. If the city agrees, the district would have approximately $183,000 more to add back into its budget.

“If the city agrees to fund the school counselors, the savings would be used to restore programs and areas that we cut to meet the budget,” Dodd explained. “Any further savings would be allocated to other unfunded needs.”

The budget was based on an enrollment of 3,834 full-time students that includes 100 out-of-district or ‘choice’ students. At present, enrollment came in at about 50 more students than were expected, Dodd said. A final tally of students will be set on Oct. 1. If there are more students, the district will receive more money from the state. Again, any additional monies received for the additional students will be used to restore programs, teachers or aides that were cut or are needed.

Dodd said that increased fuel costs remain the primary uncertainty in the district’s financial situation for the coming school term.

“The increased cost of transportation funnels down to nearly all areas of the district; from buses to materials to food costs, everything will be affected,” she said.

The final budget shows an ending balance for the General Fund of just over $1.5 million, about 4 percent, meeting the School Board’s and the superintendent’s goal of keeping between 4 and 5 percent in an on-going reserve fund.

The amount of money received by the school district from the state is based on several complex scenarios and funding plans. The lion’s share, about 60 percent of the total funding, is from the state and is allocated on a set amount of money (about $5,100 per student) multiplied by the number of full-time students, hence the importance of enrollment in securing adequate funding for the district. Local levy funds provide about 20 percent of the total funding. Of the $39.5 million total school budget for the 2008-2009 school year, 62 percent goes to the classroom, 15 percent for classroom support and 10 percent goes toward special education programs.

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