School funds make a difference

After years of tough, budget-cutting decisions, South Sound school districts face a different, less painful experience as they prepare and approve their budget plans for the coming school year.

The Great Recession took its toll on staff and school programs, but the economy is improving and the school revenue picture is a brighter one this year.

In fact, most area school districts are in the position to restore, enhance or add school programs and staffing in ways they haven’t been able to do in years.

A case in point is North Thurston Public Schools. School board members Tuesday night approved a $139 million budget for the 2013-14 school year that invests in class size reductions, supports more robust early learning activities and brings all-day kindergarten to 13 schools — free in six schools serving low-income families and tuition-based in the other seven.

The budget includes more money for special programs that had been cut in recent years, including English as a second language (ESL), special education, and visual performing arts.

There’s more money this year to hire more counselors and instructional coaches and boost state-mandated contributions to employee pension funds.

The school district, which serves 14,000 students in the Lacey area, benefitted from nearly $6.5 million in new revenue from additional levy funds, a bump in student enrollment — 120 students — and state funds to help pay for all-day kindergarten and class-size reductions in kindergarten through third grade.

School districts had to wait longer than normal this year to develop and approve their budgets, thanks to a 2013 Legislature that took far too long to adopt a state budget.

But in the end, the $1 billion in additional state funding for K-12 — a down payment on a state Supreme Court ruling to fully fund public education — made the wait worthwhile.