Students in the Tahoma School District are in the same league, academically, as the highest-performing districts in the state, despite lagging far behind in funding. In fact, if Tahoma’s students were magically transported to nearly any other district in King County, they would instantly have millions of dollars more available for their education.
Comparable school districts collect between $19 million and $47 million more per year than Tahoma. That’s because our community’s total assessed value is far below that of surrounding districts, which have more commercial development. This was one of the funding factors discussed with community members and staff who attended the first of two Engage Tahoma sessions about finance.
“We get really good bang for our buck here in Tahoma — really good,” said Lori Cloud, assistant superintendent and director of finance. “It’s pretty amazing what we’re able to do with the resources we have.”
Here’s a look at the assessed value (or the worth of all property and buildings in the district) of some of the districts in King County:
Tahoma School District: $7.2 billion
Bellevue School District: $72.4 billion
Lake Washington School District: $66 billion
Northshore School District: $33.7 billion
Issaquah School District: $33.8 billion
Snoqualmie Valley School District: $9.6 billion
Each of these is a district that Tahoma compares to academically and competes with for staff members. The assessed value figure is vitally important because it directly impacts the levy dollars that each district collects to supplement state and federal funds.
Finance was selected as the first topic for the district’s new Engage Tahoma model, which is designed to offer parents and taxpayers an in-depth, transparent look at how a certain aspect of the district works — and then discuss and take feedback about that topic from those who attend. District administrators and staff members are also available to talk with or to answer questions. The School Board created the new interactive engagement sessions, and asked that the first two topics covered be finance and technology. While these two finance sessions are focused on revenue, the district anticipates offering two sessions focused on expenditures in the fall.
School districts have four major funds: a General Fund, Capital Projects Fund, Transportation Vehicle Fund and an Associated Student Body (ASB) fund, Cloud explained:
The ASB Fund is used for extracurricular clubs, athletics and activities and is controlled by the student body.
The transportation vehicle fund has money from the state bus depreciation schedule and the local levy. It can be used for the purchase of buses and major bus repairs; but not for any of the daily operations of the Transportation Department such as drivers, gas, tires, general maintenance.
The Capital Projects Fund has money from local levies and bonds, state matching money, impact fees and interest earned before the money is spent on projects. This fund is for spending on acquiring facilities, construction, equipment or major repairs; but not for regular maintenance or repairs, staffing, utilities or supplies.
The General Fund is comprised of 86 percent state dollars, 12 percent local dollars (levy funds), and 2 percent federal dollars.
Federal dollars go to specific programs, such as Special Education (68 percent), Food Service (15 percent), Title I (10 percent), Title II (5 percent), English Language Learners (1 percent) and Vocational programs (1 percent).
State dollars are determined by the number of students in classes. These funds are allocated by the state for Basic Education (80 percent), Special Education (10 percent), Transportation (5 percent), and smaller allotments such as the Highly Capable program, Food Service and more.
Local dollars come primarily from the Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) Levy, (80 percent), with 8 percent from the Extended Enrichment Program, 7 percent from Food Services and 5 percent from smaller local revenue streams such as course fees, facility use and interest.
Cloud also explained that the state uses what they have designated as a “prototypical model” for funding. Under this funding model (not to be confused with a staffing model), they pay Tahoma for 1.4 school nurses. Tahoma uses local levy funds to supplement so that it has 7.2 full time equivalent nursing positions for its 9 buildings. The funding model pays for 0 behavior specialists, while Tahoma uses levy dollars to fund 9 positions, one at each building because teachers, principals and administrators feel strongly that it benefits all students. The prototypical model pays for 2.6 FTE school safety positions, while Tahoma has 3.3; and, it funds 4.9 technology positions while Tahoma has 13.8 FTE.
Voters in the Tahoma School District last April approved a two-year EPO levy at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value, which was estimated at $10.7 million in 2019 and $11.8 million in 2020 in the ballot measure.
One person who attended asked Cloud to talk more about the class size money that is included in the state’s education budget. It’s distributed to districts that meet the K-3 class size requirements; however for the past two years, the Legislature has granted waivers to allow districts to continue receiving the money. For Tahoma, that money equates to about $3 million.
Before session 2 of “Finance 101,” Superintendent Tony Giurado asked attendees to think about what financial information it’s critical for the Tahoma community to know and how to enlist the community’s voice in advocacy for Tahoma students. The second session about finance/revenues will be from 6-7:30 p.m. on April 4 at the Central Services Center.
The next topic in the Engage Tahoma series this school year will be Technology. Those two sessions will follow a similar format: detailed information at the first meeting and small-group discussion with district staff and leaders at the second meeting. The technology sessions are from 6-7:30 p.m. on April 30 and May 20 at the Central Services Center. To sign up for the two technology sessions, click here.