The Wenatchee School Board is using newly available funding to help offset a $9 million budget shortfall.

The district has made spending adjustments which resulted in more than $2.8 million in savings from projections last June, and the Board voted Tuesday to use that money to address budget cuts in the next school year of 2023-24.

The move is part of a plan to spread budget cuts over three years, which is getting strong support from the board,

"Offsetting the impact and spreading it over more than one year is very important to me," said Board member Laura Jaecks. "And as a board, I think it will help us provide some peace of mind to our staff. Our people make up 80 percent of our budget. And so many of the cuts are going to come in the form of people."

Jaecks joined a unanimous vote on a resolution drafted by interim Superintendent Bill Eagle for use of the $2.8 million.

Eagle informed the board of the budget shortfall, which will likely range between $8 million and $9 million, and a workshop meeting held Monday.

The budget hole is blamed on the elimination of federal pandemic relief money as well as a sharp drop in enrollment and expected cuts from the state legislature this year.

Board member Julie Norton says the move will provide protections for students.

"I think it also creates some stability, or prevents undo changes for our students as well, knowing that we're not cutting drastically right away, and everything they know is changing," said Norton. "So, I think it creates some stability and gives us more time to look at other impacts over the course of these next few years."

The next step in dealing with the shortfall will be the creation of budget options for the board to consider.

Eagle said that process will take place over the course of the early February, with a goal of the board settling on a final budget by late February.

It's known that staffing reduction will have to be made in order to balance the budget.

There's a hope in the district that natural attrition will play a major role in meeting that end, with positions not being filled when there's a resignation or retirement.

Other than that, Eagle outlined plans to work with union leadership in creating potential budget reduction scenarios.

Plans also include spreading the impact of budget cuts across grade levels and departments.

Shrinking enrollment is one of the major contributing factors to the shortfall, with enrollment falling by more than 700 students since the 2015-16 school year.

The district attributes the fall in enrollment to several factors, including the closure of the Alcoa plant (2016-17), The pandemic lockdown (2020-21), the lifting of the lockdown (2021-2022), the opening of separate school, Pinnnacles Prep (2021-2022), and a decline in birth rates in Wenatchee and Chelan County.

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