Regionalization’s impact on budget

In 2012, the McLeary family finally won their long ongoing court case against the state of Washington for their inadequate allocation of funding to school districts across the state. After several years of being heavily fined until they could come up with a solution, the state released a new plan in 2017 which allocated a significantly larger portion of the budget to education statewide, but also came with other reforms that would come to negatively affect us today. Although this new budget satisfies the requirements of the McCleary case, it has several flaws, and among them the one that affects Orcas Island School District the most is regionalization.

Regionalization is a new system for budget allocation. In this new system the state reorders its determination of the cost of living in the School District’s area to supposedly be more accurate. However, in the case of the local school district it does the exact opposite. Regionalization looks at the average cost of housing within a school district and outside of it, somewhere in a fifteen-mile radius. A particular issue facing our local school district is that, although our housing is expensive, the state’s calculation assumes that the rest of our cost of living is average, which is not true in an area where all goods and services are imported from the mainland, making transportation costs much higher, and therefore increasing the overall cost of every product that gets to the island from off of it. This means that the school district is not allocated fair funds in proportion to the actual cost of living in the area.

Another issue with the state’s new system, although one that is rather unsolvable and extremely common in modern budgeting, is that the budget directly corresponds to the number of students enrolled in the school. Since the school district cannot know this number until the day school begins, they are forced to estimate the number of students they will have, and therefore estimate their budget. This can lead to either too many employees being hired if they estimate too high of a number, and therefore an overall loss of funds because of salaries they must now pay from the school’s reserve fund rather than from the budget. Conversely, if the estimate is too low, inadequate staffing can lead to overcrowded classes. Additionally adding to this hardship is the school’s OASIS program which has experienced some fluctuating enrollment.

This year, our school faces consequences from these issues. Because the estimation of the budget was not high enough, the high school started off the school year with a decrease in staffing even though student enrollment significantly increased. On top of this, the negative effects of regionalization have led to salaries and funding being lower than they deservedly should be.

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