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Several school districts around the state are claiming the sky is falling, while legislators who wrote and passed McCleary are singing a different tune.

In 2012 the state Supreme Court ruled that the state was violating its Constitution by failing to fully fund basic education for children in the state. The Legislature came up with a plan to come into compliance with that ruling, but there seems to now be a disconnect between local administrators and local legislators about if the bill is actually doing its job.

The Ellensburg School District, which is currently going through bargaining negotiations with both its teachers and classified staff, said it misses out on a lot of the extra funding that McCleary provides to some schools, including funding enhancements for cost of living and experienced staff mix. In other words, Ellensburg is not an expensive enough place to live, and the teachers aren’t experienced enough to qualify for extra salary funding.

State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg said he thinks it’s simply a negotiating technique.

“Comments about fiscal sustainability are always an opening move when it comes to negotiations with the administration and the teachers union,” Manweller said. “Ellensburg is in no way the biggest loser. They got a tax cut and more money. If you want to see some of these places that are the biggest loser, they got a tax increase and less money.”

Manweller said he knows Ellensburg is not getting less money because of “Hold Harmless” clauses in the bill, which state if a district comes out with less money, the state would have to give the district the balance.

“We had to hold you harmless,” Manweller said. “Ellensburg did not get a dime of hold harmless money, which means there’s no way that they have less money.”

On this point, the Ellensburg School District agrees. With the infusion of state funding this year, Ellensburg has a net gain of $888,469. It’s when the district reaches years three and four of its projected budget where things start to fall apart.

“We’re just changing the color of the dollars and that’s what (Manweller) doesn’t seem to understand,” ESD business director Brian Aiken said. “If you don’t factor out the $3.2 million loss in levy, he’s exactly right… but what he’s not factoring in is, he’s giving us $3.5 million in one pocket and — because he limited us on our levy — taking $3.2 million out of the other pocket.”

This is where the levy “cliff” comes in, which turns out is more of a staircase. Because levies are collected on a fiscal calendar and not an academic calendar, Ellensburg is still collecting money from its previous levy, at a rate of $3.43 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Next school year, the rate drops to $2.74 per $1,000, since part of the year it will be collecting the old levy, and part of the year it will be collecting the new levy, which is capped at $1.50 per $1,000. During the 2019-20 school year, the district will start collecting only the $1.50 per $1,000.

This drops the district from collecting a total of $7,120,972 in the 2017-18 school year to $3,911,908 in the 2019-20 school year.

“The fact of the matter is for the next two years we have plenty of money,” said Cathie Day, Ellensburg High School librarian and representative for the Ellensburg Education Association. “It’s within the third and the fourth year there’s a projected shortfall.”

Prototypical school staffing model

Since districts are no longer able to use levy money to fund staff salaries, they can only use the money provided to them by the state based on the prototypical school staffing model, which is based on enrollment. Anything above and beyond those numbers cannot be enhanced by a levy like it used to.

At the moment, Ellensburg employs 181 certified instructional staff, but are only funded for 178. The district employs 70.806 classified staff, but are only funded for 56.186 and employs 15.1 certified administrative staff and are only funded at 13.26.

Previously, the differences could be made up in local levies, but not anymore.

Manweller said the state had no problem with local control and local levies, and allowed schools to operate that way for 40 years.

“This is one of these cases of be careful what you wish for, you might get it,” Manweller said. “The (Washington Education Association) sued, they won, but now they’re dealing with the consequences of their own victory.”

Aiken said the district is still working on setting up a meeting with Manweller to talk about how the funding model affects Ellensburg.

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