Tacoma Public Schools facing $7 million budget deficit next school year

Tacoma Public Schools facing $7 million budget deficit next school year
Tacoma Public Schools is bracing for a loss of at least $7 million in its budget for the 2020-21 school year. (Drew Perine/The News Tribune) (Drew Perine)

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma Public Schools is bracing for a loss of at least $7 million in its budget for the 2020-21 school year.

No single factor is driving the deficit, according to district chief financial officer Rosalind Medina, but a global pandemic isn’t helping matters.

“Our shortfalls have little to do with COVID; however, we are being far more conservative with our forecasting and spending and have the future impacts in our mind,” Medina said in an email to questions from The News Tribune.

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The shortfall accounts for less than 2 percent of the district’s budget, which sits at about $480 million for the 2019-20 school year. The estimated budget for the 2020-21 school year totals $499 million, according to district projections.

“If I were to list out the things that were driving the $7 million deficit, I’d probably need to list out 25 different things,” Medina told Tacoma Public Schools Board of Directors at a meeting on May 14. “There’s no one linchpin.”

Salaries, which make up 85 percent of the district’s budget, are one cause of the deficit.

“Salary impacts will continue to outpace the revenues we receive for several years to come, so scrutinizing positions, limiting travel, and deferring purchases are all current considerations,” Medina said.

The district also is exploring multiple strategies, including prioritizing non-renewable funding sources, identifying reductions and eliminations.

“In order to balance our budget, we will need to make reductions to our expenditures,” Medina said. “We will also likely need to rely on our fund balance (savings) for another year to balance our budget, while still maintaining our reserve requirement of 5%.”

For the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, Medina estimates COVID-19 impacts sit at less than $2 million, but the district is still working to track costs amid unknown variables, such as federal reimbursements and continuation of food delivery through the summer.

This time last year, the district was grappling with a $30 million budget deficit due to a state cap of levy funding and announced layoffs. With such significant cuts, Medina said she was hoping the 2020-21 school year would be a quiet one.

“(The deficit) is not as significant as it could have been, but we are surprised with COVID and all of the expectations and worries and wonders for what’s coming as to how to address things,” Medina said.

More information about next year’s budget will be shared in the following months. The district is required by state law to have a budget in place by Aug. 31.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in a webinar with the League of Education Voters on Friday that federal and state education funding is mostly stable for 2020-21 school year and that most of the impacts will surface in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

Medina said the district can’t budget for the state’s future financial issues.

“(T)he Legislature doesn’t even know what they are yet, and we can only guess as to how they will address them,” Medina said. “What will be most likely is that we will plan for mid-year reductions that will occur before the next legislative session and after we adopt the budget.”