Schools In Focus: Our budget in focus

Puyallup. Vancouver. Seattle. Highline. Evergreen. Washougal. Tacoma. Northshore. And the list goes on. These are the latest school districts to announce school budget deficits for the upcoming 2024-2025 school year.

Sequim School District faces the same reality and has notified staff of the necessary $2.3 million budget reduction for the coming 2024-2025 school year. The reduction is close to 5% of the current $48M school budget.

School budget deficits are being experienced statewide for several reasons, including inadequate state funding, drops in student enrollment numbers and a loss of emergency federal funding from COVID times. Currently Sequim School District receives $26 million in general purpose revenue from the state funding formula.

Beyond that, about $13 million in special purpose funding from state and federal grants is received to address specialized learning needs.

The district then turns to its local Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EP&O) which currently funds $7.5 million of the remaining budgeted need. Several staff positions are being funded through the remaining $1.2M in Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER), which will no longer be available after this year.

A remaining $1 million deficit is currently being funded utilizing the district’s cash reserves.

This is an unsustainable model.

There is a clear mismatch between the school funding formula and the actual costs of running a school district. We can see this most clearly in the inadequate funding of staff positions. The number of assigned staff across all areas — including teachers, educational support staff, paraeducators, secretaries, school nutritionists, administrators, maintenance/custodial employees and bus drivers — recognized in the state funding formula does not match the number of employees fundamentally required to fulfill the school district’s mission. The employee numbers beyond what the state formula allows must be fully funded by our local levy or grant funds.

Secondly, the rate of reimbursement for the positions recognized in the formula is well below the competitive pay rates necessary to recruit and keep our talented district staffing.

Local school districts, along with their communities, are therefore left to pick up the tab through local educational program levies and grant funds.

As salary and benefit costs rise, the state formula simply does not keep pace. Local levies are critical to maintain school district programs.

In 2024-25 the school district budget deficit must be met with cost-savings measures through cost reductions and the generation of new revenue streams. The predominant revenue factor for schools is based on student enrollment. Individual student counts are recognized in the state funding formula at an approximate annual rate of $10,000 per student. Therefore, attracting and retaining student enrollment is a key factor for all school districts.

While significant challenges persist in the general-purpose educational funding formula, there is good news for Sequim regarding facilities funding. Sequim School District recently received Local Community Project funding of $4.9 million to build Phase 1 of a Career and Technical Education Center of Excellence. This funding is included in the state capital budget to be signed by Gov. Inslee later this month.

Rep. Steve Tharinger has toured the district’s facilities and participated in our district’s CTE advisory meetings.

The need for funding to provide job ready, trade-based opportunities for our students was recognized. The goal of this generous funding dedication is for students to have the opportunity to graduate with workforce credentials in the building construction trades.

Workforce development partnerships across multiple trades including construction, electrical, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation air conditioning, along with credentialing pathways with Peninsula College and on-the-job externships with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County are expected to grow exponentially through this career-ready effort.

Sequim School District will continue to seek revenue streams that support innovation and bring new opportunities to our students, such as the Local Community Project capital funding.

At the same time, the district recognizes the inadequacy of the state’s current funding model to meet the minimum staffing and operations costs of our district.

The challenge and goal of budget development in 2024-25 will be to make the most effective use of our human and fiscal resources to provide effective, sustainable, and innovative programming and facilities so that all of our students can thrive.

Regan Nickels is superintendent of the Sequim School District. “Schools in Focus” is a recurring column featured in the Sequim Gazette. See For more information or to comment on this column, email to