How some school districts are dealing with mandatory budget cuts

GIG HARBOR, Wash. — Like many districts across the state, the Peninsula School District entered this summer with an eight-figure budget shortfall.

The district is made up of more than 8,000 students, many whom begin classes this week.

KIRO 7′s Gwen Baumgardner spoke with the district’s chief financial officer about how mandatory budget cuts could impact students’ education and school experience.

This year’s budget cuts were finalized last week.

“We’ve been hard at work drafting the 2023-2024 budget. And I want to say, it looks good,” said district CFO Ashley Murphy at a Peninsula School District Board meeting last month.

Despite a $12 million budget shortfall, Murphy said the district was able to do an overhaul of its financial priorities to hopefully improve this year’s classroom experience.

“Ultimately, the reductions that we made are actually going to provide additional dollars for our classroom, they’re going to provide additional field trip opportunities, they’re going to provide additional dollars for specific programs in the buildings,” said Murphy.

This school year will also see the addition of two full-time security officers meant to increase school safety. With that said, there were reductions that were made to get out of the red: staff cuts to the district office and a reduction in summer staffing, such as janitorial work.

Additionally, the district opted to use some of its rainy day fund to make up the difference.

“We are definitely having to tap into the reserves. But ultimately, that’s what they’re there for,” said Murphy.

Murphy said that’s not a long-term solution and that this year, the district needs to find additional revenue streams.

We spoke with local parents about the district’s financial outlook moving forward.

“Well, we’re super excited for the year to start. Hearing about the cuts is not great news. But we are very, very fortunate that the school’s so close,” said one local dad.

“As long as we don’t lose too many of our great teachers, then I think we’ll do OK,” a mom told us.

Multimillion-dollar cuts, like ones in Gig Harbor, are something we’ve seen at several school districts across the state, something that’s often attributed to a decline in public school enrollment, inadequate state funding and the end of federal COVID-19 relief money.