Finance Update: Fall 2020Contrary to what you might assume, remote learning is not less expensive than in-person learning. In fact the cost is very similar to what we see during a normal year.
Unlike other districts, we did not need to furlough employees. Instead we found alternate work for many classified staff. Since our buildings are open and teachers and staff are in the buildings, the district's operating expenses – including insurance, electrical bills, and cleaning supplies — have essentially remained the same as a normal school year.
This year we have had to spend more money prepping our buildings for COVID-19, including masks for staff, additional cleaning supplies, and plexiglass shields. While we hope to get most of those expenses reimbursed from state and federal sources, there are some costs that will fall to the district.
One concern we have is that our enrollment did not grow this fall like it was forecasted to. While we haven’t seen a steep drop in enrollment like other districts, any loss of students equals a loss of revenue from the state, which is based on a per-pupil formula.
Bethel voters give students tech advantage during pandemic
When Bethel voters approved a Technology Levy six years ago to give every student in the district access to a personal iPad, they weren’t thinking about a global pandemic that would one day force us out of classrooms and into a new world of distance learning.
The levy was meant to help prepare Bethel students for the future by putting them into technology-rich classrooms and giving them the most advanced educational tools available.
The 1:1 iPad program has succeeded in all the ways our voters had hoped it would, but it has also succeeded in ways no one could have imagined.
Bethel School District Operating Budget for 2020-21
At its August 18 meeting, the School Board approved an operating budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, as well as a four-year budget plan.
The 2020-2021 budget includes $338.6 million for the district’s General Fund. The General Fund Budget covers the district’s annual operating costs. It provides support to approximately 20,000 students, which are served by more than 2,200 staff.
Nearly 80% of the district’s revenue comes from state, with 11.5% coming from local taxes, 8.3% from the federal government, and less than half of a percent from leases and smaller payments from entities.
Chief Financial Officer Billy Wessell also presented the Board with a four-year budget summary that anticipates modest near-term revenue gains and substantial cuts to expenditures. The 2021-2022 outlook assumes $306.9 million in revenues and $304.7 million in expenditures, down from $338.6 in 2020-2021.
“The majority of our funding comes from the state, and when the state’s projecting over $4 billion dollar deficit, we know we’re going to be seeing some of those cuts when the legislature comes back in session,” Wessell said.
Read more about the budget here.
Bethel School District Bond Refinancing Saves Taxpayers Over $5.3 Million
The Bethel School District has taken advantage of low bond interest rates to save taxpayers money. A recent refinancing authorized by the Board of Directors will result in savings of $5,373,353 for taxpayers over the next seven years.
“This was a great opportunity to demonstrate good fiscal stewardship and save our taxpayers a significant amount of money” said Superintendent Tom Seigel. He emphasized that the savings will go directly to taxpayers through lower future tax collections.“This is money that will now stay in our community and local economy, rather than go to pay interest on outstanding bonds.
The savings will also help the district promote future tax rate stability as it sells the remaining bonds approved by voters in 2019.” said Seigel.
The district garnered a rate of 1.43% on the new bonds. This compares to 4.00% on the bonds being refinanced.
Although there has been substantial volatility in the bond market due to Covid 19, the interest rates on these types of bonds reached near historic lows according to Billy Wessell, the district’s Chief Financial Officer. “We have been monitoring the market closely over the past several months to identify an opportunity to refinance these bonds; we are pleased to be able to provide this savings to the district taxpayers” said Wessell.
As part of the bond issuance, the district received affirmation of their bond credit rating of “Aa2” from Moody’s Investors Service. In their recent rating report, Moody’s noted the district's “ . . . strong management practices and prior success in managing fund balance”.This strong bond rating benefits the district and taxpayers through lower borrowing costs, Wessell said.
Finance Audit Update
At a School Board Study Session in April, representatives from the Office of the Washington State Auditor presented their findings to the Board for our most recent financial audit. During the meeting they thanked our district for our "commitment to fiscal accountability and accurate financial reporting." They also acknowledged several members of our Business Office for their outstanding work during the annual audit.
This audit covered the period of September 1, 2018 through Aug 31, 2019. "As usual, your district has a great process to make sure you're reporting everything correctly the first time," the auditors said during the meeting.
Bethel is dedicated to making sure we are efficient and effective when it comes to our finances. The budgeting process is now underway for the 2020/21 school year.