Schools In Focus: A focus on school finance

It is the season of education budget building across our state both legislatively and locally. To this end, the Sequim School Board directors — along with other area school board contingents from Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Chimacum — recently spent a Day on the Hill advocating to House and Senate legislators in Olympia for funding to make up the state apportionment gaps that are leaving so many school districts in a financial lurch.

The region’s local legislative contingent including Rep. Steve Tharinger, Rep. Mike Chapman and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege all took the time to individually meet with our local board members and superintendents. The most significant funding gaps discussed included special education, staffing levels, and operations costs.

Of course, this year is a short legislative session so education funding levels have been anticipated to remain relatively static. However, encouraging news from the Economic & Revenue Forecast Council reveals an increase of $121.8 million in revenue projections for the first quarter in addition to an already noted $1.14 billion surplus from March to November 2023.

The Legislature now has an opportunity to make K-12 education the top priority for allocation of these surplus funds as Washington’s constitution articulates that amply funding education is the “paramount duty” of the state.

To describe the state funding gap is to simultaneously explain why Sequim School District is suffering financially like so many other Washington state school districts. Just open local papers across our state and readers learn of the crisis from Washougal to Mount Baker. Sequim School District specifically is projected to face a $2.3 million dollar shortfall by August 2025.

State apportionment dollars are assigned based on student enrollment. Besides receiving apportionment, schools also seek local levy dollars to support services not funded through state allocations. Enrollment numbers have declined in most school districts — and Sequim School District is no exception. Enrollment dropped 223.63 FTE from June 2019-June 2023.

Each basic education allocation per student enrollment is apportioned this year at $10,006.20. Generating revenue through increased enrollment is critical for school districts. Sequim schools are known positively for their strong individualized support for students.

Our district is working diligently to strengthen our programs and achievement to be a highly attractive school system for new enrollees.

Secondly, state apportionment formulas assign a defined number of staff members based on student enrollment. State funded staffing levels are woefully inadequate, especially in these times of need for mental health support, specialty teaching, special education support and strong school leadership. No state apportionment is provided for student enrichment, extracurriculars or classified substitute needs.

To this end, not all Sequim school district positions are funded through the basic education budget. Sequim School District is only funded for 144.8 staff FTE. The district employs more than 360 personnel (some of whom are partially paid with categorical funds).

The reimbursement for funded staff is at a static level no matter what the employee’s years of experience. Sequim School District is fortunate to be staffed with many veteran personnel. The apportioned rate creates a shortfall in the millions; an unintentional penalty for Sequim School District as we commit to pay our staff members competitively and retain veteran staff.

School districts have the need for a sturdy fund balance. School districts rely on their fund balance to provide for cash flow on the month when low apportionment percentages are received. The Sequim School District fund balance is projected to dip below the 4% minimum required this year and be in the red by August 2025 if the course is not corrected.

Of course, doing nothing is not an option to be fiscally sound.

Currently, Sequim School District is reducing discretionary spending for the rest of the school year. As the budget for 2024-25 is in development, the district will be making exceedingly difficult decisions to cut expenditures. With a budget so heavily based on personnel and receipt of insufficient state apportionment, staffing reductions and other cost savings measures will need to be taken.

A community wide input survey is underway to learn more about community budget priorities. The survey can be found on the Sequim School District website at

We hope you consider taking the survey to share your interests as we strive to simultaneously build a stronger school system and manage a significant financial shortfall.

“Schools in Focus” is a recurring column featured in the Sequim Gazette. Regan Nickels is superintendent of the Sequim School District. See