empty desks

Tumwater and other school districts’ budgets and staffing levels affected by enrollment decline  

Immediate measures to limit expenses were announced; layoffs not mentioned

Tumwater School District Superintendent Dr. Sean Dotson announced budget control measures in this Nov. 7, 2021 video addressed to staff.
Courtesy of Tumwater School District

As the pandemic drags on, some parents across the U.S. and locally have elected to keep their students at home or send them to private schools. The drop in enrollment brings a proportional drop in funding for school districts.

Tumwater School District announced over the weekend that it is planning to cope with its budget challenges by restricting overtime and travel for its staff.

In a video addressed to staff released on YouTube on Sun., Nov. 7, Tumwater Schools’ superintendent, Dr. Sean Dotson, explained that the loss of revenue and the instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had placed additional financial strain on the already struggling school district.

“Even before the pandemic, Tumwater School District was experiencing a financial challenge, and we were seeking to reduce expenses at that time,” Dotson explained.  During the pandemic, as nearly all students were educated online, districts had new and additional costs. "To address [these costs] … the federal government provided COVID relief funds and the state government provided enrollment stabilization funding to help us get through until our operations return to normal.

Now most of those COVID relief funds are exhausted.

Decreased enrollments this fall have  further impacted the district’s short-term and long-term goals. Dotson recognized that “To be financially responsible, we need to make whatever adjustments...right now to reduce our expenses.”

Budget cuts

 The school superintendent explained that 85 percent of the district’s budget is allocated to pay for the staff. This means that the district had little room to reduce their expenses, without having an impact on their staffing costs.

As a solution, the district would immediately implement stricter fiscal actions, which includes;

  • Minimizing staff costs: this covers extra hours, overtime, and reducing substitutes.
  • Eliminating spending: the exception includes essential expenses for materials and supplies. In addition, all purchases must undergo pre-approval from the school board.
  • Evaluating each vacant position: the school board will assess whether they would need to fill in vacant positions for staff who are either retiring or on leave.
  • Eliminating all unnecessary travel: except for those considered essential.
  • Delay in maintenance and technology purchases: the exception also covers those that are considered essential.

According to Dotson, the school board recognized that staff also needed additional resources to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but believethat  budget cuts are necessary to ensure that the school operations continue. “I’m sorry that we have to send you a message that we have to observe or reduce costs,” Dotson said.

Budgetary considerations

 “Our dilemma is that our day-to-day operating costs are significantly greater than the revenues we receive from all sources,” the district superintendent explained. He shared that despite the help from the state and federal government, these funds are still insufficient to cover the expenses. “Now we recognize that those federal and state funds will run out before we fully get back to normal,” Dotson shared.

Despite the challenges, the superintendent assured that the school board continues to find solutions that will have the most negligible impact on their staff. “Remember, anything we can do to reduce expenses now will help us reduce the need for bigger adjustments next year,” Dotson concluded.

Next steps

 The school district is also encouraging community members to share any ideas that will help them increase their revenue. Those who are interested may submit their suggestions or recommendations to the superintendent at sean.dotson@tumwater.k12.wa.us.

In addition, the school board will also hold a discussion sometime around fall or winter about the necessary budget adjustments that they needed to make for the next school year.

OSPI data disputes enrollment decline

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reports Tumwater basic education enrollment of 6,355 students in June 2021;  they reported 6,641 basic education students, in October 2021. These numbers are simplistic and do not take all factors into account. 

Numbers unavailable for Tumwater and other districts

Actual enrollment numbers were unavailable today from Tumwater, Olympia and North Thurston districts. The JOLT has requested dollar estimates from Tumwater and enrollment details from Olympia and North Thurston school districts.


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