Our approach to developing and communicating the District’s budget is consistent with our Strategic Plan's Building Block 4: Data-Informed, Needs-Based Resource Allocation, developing a “Needs Based, Data Informed” method to responsibly allocate limited District resources.
2020-21 Budget Highlights
Innovation Lab High School
Formerly known as “Canyon Business Park Site 4” or CP4, the Innovation Lab High School is set to open in the fall of 2021. The new high school will help the district manage growing enrollment in the four traditional high schools while offering an option for a different type of high school experience for our students. Innovation Lab will use the Expeditionary Learning model. One of the central features of Expeditionary Learning is the concept of Crew: an advisory and mutual support network that will form the backbone of Innovation Lab High School’s culture. Expeditionary Learning also emphasizes the skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
Ruby Bridges Elementary School
Another new school opening in the fall of 2020 is the Ruby Bridges Elementary School. Again, the addition of this new school space was made possible with the support of our community through the approval of the bond levy. Principal Cathi Davis was able to watch the construction of the school while guiding the development of the instructional programs that will be available to students in the fall. The school covers 76,000 square feet to accommodate and expected 450 or so students. The budget for the school was $80 million, a typical elementary school budget.
The State’s “K-3” Class Size Initiative
The Washington State legislature implemented an initiative is to reduce class size in kindergarten through 3rd grade to a ratio of 17 students to each “teacher” (in this case, “teacher” includes related certificated teaching staff such as librarians, etc.). Last year our efforts to reduce class size moved from 17.9 per teacher to 17.6. At that level, the state formula resulted in a penalty of about $2 million. We are pleased to announce that the Northshore School District expects to be at the target of 17 students to each teacher in this grade group. As a result, our financial plans do not anticipate any financial penalties for the 2020-21 school year. It is also great to have the lower teacher ratio for the benefit of our students.
COVID 19 and the Health and Safety of our Students and Staff
One of the concerns we continue to evaluate is the model of instruction for public schools during the health pandemic. As we prepare this budget our counties are at phase 2 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan. Public schools were ordered to close for the balance of the 2019-20 school year last March and we implemented “Northshore Learns” on-line learning curriculum. During this summer we are working with various community partners, including our labor partners, to determine the best options for our students returning to our school buildings this fall. The proposed budget includes and addition of $4.2 million for personal protective equipment (PPE) in anticipation of bringing students back onsite. This includes masks to staff and students, cleaning and sanitation supplies.
One goal we’ve made progress on in this budget is to regionalize programs. Over the years, programs have been created and offered wherever there was space within the different buildings. This has resulted in a significant amount of “shuttling” students from their home school to the school where the programs were able to fit. A result is a negative impact on transportation services. Our drivers have been shuttling students all across the district to get them to the programs they need as well as programs of choice. An important goal of the District has been to keep students closest to their home schools and the neighborhoods they call home. This enables them to make life-long friends and spend less time on District buses. We are very pleased to be able to offer programs closer to our students homes.
Four Year Financial Planning Cycle
Last year we signaled that our district would be using the new state four-year budget requirement as a way to plan for the future here at Northshore. As we prepare our spending plans, we seek to understand the impact of our decisions on the future years in our financial plans. The District’s financial policy calls for a minimum of three percent (3%) in unencumbered reserves in our General Fund. Included in this budget is the four-year financial plan and an explanation of our assumptions and drivers to do this planning work. In summary, our assumption is that student enrollment will be flat for each of the four years. In addition, we are assuming no significant changes in the level of support either from the state or locally.
Financial Stress Tests
In addition to the required four-year financial plan, we also use this tool to “stress test” the impact on our future finances under different conditions. For example, we are aware that the State of Washington will be under financial stress as a result of the economic impacts from the pandemic. Our four-year model allows us to assess the impacts of changes to the level of state support (among other things).
As a result of the potential for changes in state level support, we have asked staff to use caution in their expenditure of district funds. Consequently we anticipate the ending fund balance for the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year to be at about $36 million (8.9% of General Fund expenditures). Some of this fund balance will be invested in the items described above (personal protective equipment for example). This is a higher fund balance than the District normally carries into the next budget, but given these uncertain times (both from a health perspective and a financial perspective) we felt it was prudent.
Centralized Staffing Pool
As we described, our financial planning assumption for enrollment provides for a level enrollment over the next four years. We do not yet know how the events of this spring (primarily the pandemic) will impact both the local economy and our school enrollment for other reasons. We believe that a flat enrollment assumption is fiscally conservative. However, we do not want to be caught short of staff should we have enrollment growth in the District. As a result, the budget includes a centralized staffing pool for both certificated staff and classified staff. Allocations from the pool can be made as we actually see the enrollments occur at the schools when we resume in the fall.
Healthy Start Times
Consistent with the regionalization of programs discussed above, the District has been working to find solutions to a healthy start time for our adolescent students. A Technical Workgroup has been meeting for almost a year and working with transportation consultants to find solutions to the many challenges that block our offering a healthy start time to our secondary students. “Healthy start times” are characterized as after 8 am for adolescent students. Rearranging our transportation schedules would not be possible without the regionalization of programs. During the upcoming year we plan to regionalize programs as a first step to adjusting our start times and transportation services in order to enable our high-school students to be able to begin their academic day no earlier than 8 am.
One-to-One Student to Computer Ratio
One of the projects identified in our technology levy initiative was to achieve a “one-to-one” ratio of students to technology devices. The District achieved this accomplishment in early 2020. The Northshore approach to this effort consisted of two elements. The student at school element and the student to home element. In the student to school effort we now have an age appropriate computing device for each Northshore student at their school sites. Teachers and other District staff can use these in a variety of ways, again based on student age, content, etc. In the student to home program, those students who lacked access to computing devices at home to complete homework were provided a “take-home” device if desired.
As a result of the COVID 19 closure of District buildings, many of these computing devices have been deployed to student’s homes in order to improve the quality of remote learning. In addition, the District has partnered with T-Mobile to ensure each student has access to Internet connectivity through a mobile “hot-spot”. While our one-to-one program did not anticipate that the District would provide thousands of “take-home” devices, having this resource available to our students has proven to be an important element in our ability to continue teaching and learning in this global pandemic.