MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon School Board laid the groundwork Wednesday night for potential districtwide budget cuts.

The board unanimously approved a reduced educational program and reduction of staff resolution, which allows the district to begin looking for ways to save money in light of a $3.7 million budget shortfall.

“Whether that gap is made up in part by legislative action has yet to be seen,” Superintendent Carl Bruner said. “At this point, we’re left with needing to make some significant reductions in order to present (the board) with a balanced budget.”

The district — like most others in the Skagit County — is in the position of having to make cuts because of how it has been impacted by the “McCleary Fix,” the state Legislature’s plan to fully fund basic education after a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling ordered it to do so.

As part of the fix, the Legislature last year increased the statewide property tax, allowing it to pour more money into school districts, especially for teacher salaries.

At the same time, it limited how much districts can collect next year in local taxes — money that has been used for everything from supplies to teacher salaries.

That reduction in levy dollars is leaving many districts struggling.

In Mount Vernon, the district was originally looking at cuts of between $4.5 million and $5 million, but that number has been partially offset by the February passage of a two-year, $4.7 million replacement safety and technology levy.

The passage of the Wednesday resolution allows the district’s administration to start looking at where to cut its 2019-2020 budget — including programs and staff.

At its meeting Wednesday, the board also heard an update from the district’s boundary adjustment committee, which is tasked with redrawing the attendance zones for most of the district’s elementary schools and its middle schools.

With the opening of Harriet Rowley Elementary School and the impending closure of Lincoln Elementary School, the district has spent the past 18 months working toward new boundaries.

The goal, Assistant Superintendent Bill Nutting said, is to have each of its elementary schools match the overall demographic of the district.

Two options were discussed at an October community meeting, but after feedback from community members, the district went back to the drawing board, Nutting said.

Now, two new maps have been proposed using that feedback.

A big sticking point with the community was where about 100 students who live in the Mobile Manor trailer park area off North 30th Street would attend school, Nutting said.

Those students currently attend Centennial Elementary School and would have continued to do so under the old proposals.

The district assumed that is what parents wanted, Nutting said.

“But that’s probably not an assumption we should make,” he said. “We should ask.”

The biggest difference between the two new options is whether those 100 students — as well as those who live closest to Madison Elementary — would attend Centennial Elementary or the new Harriet Rowley Elementary.

Because Madison Elementary is a dual-language school and accepts students from throughout the district, it no longer needs designated boundaries. Therefore, students who live closest to the school — but do not attend it — go to one of the district’s other nearby schools.

Another change is that under the current plans all students at Washington Elementary — which serves the area west of Interstate 5 — would attend LaVenture Middle School as they do now.

Under the previous plans, new middle school students graduating from Washington Elementary would go to Mount Baker Middle School, while previous Washington graduates would still go to LaVenture.

That would have meant more busing in the district because students from the west side would go to both middle schools.

The district is seeking input on its 2019-2020 budget and the redrawing of its boundaries.

It will host several community meetings regarding the boundary adjustments: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centennial Elementary School, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School, 6:30 p.m. March 25 at Jefferson Elementary School, and at 6:30 p.m. March 26 at Little Mountain Elementary School.

For more information on either the budget or the boundary plans, visit the district’s website at mountvernonschools.org.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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