OLYMPIA — School districts in Chelan and Okanogan counties will receive about $1.2 million less in federal forest dollars this year compared to last if the now-expired Secure Rural Schools Act is not reauthorized by Congress.
The funds are meant to offset taxes that aren’t paid to school districts from the federal forest land within a school district’s boundary.
The Act expired in 2015, but received a two-year extension.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said it is possible the SRS Act could be reauthorized before the end of the school year, which would significantly increase the state’s portion of the payments.
According to statistics available on the OSPI site, school districts in Chelan and Okanogan counties received $1.4 million in 2016. This year, those districts will receive $180,000.
“The vast majority of the school districts roll that revenue into their general fund,” North Central Educational Service District Rich McBride said. “The school district budget period doesn’t align with that of the federal government, so payments are sent throughout the year.”
Wenatchee School District, which receives the largest chunk of federal forest revenues of the 14 districts in Chelan and Okanogan counties, is losing about $327,000 this year.
Wenatchee Superintendent Brian Flones said the information sent out by the OSPI on Friday came as a surprise.
“We budgeted $385,000 for this year,” he said. Instead, the district will receive about $53,000.
“It’s one of those things we’ll just have to deal with. We won’t know the full impact until we close the year in August. It could just mean we don’t carry over as much money, but with enrollment down, it could have an impact,” he said.
Or, he added, “They might reauthorize it. We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Okanogan School District is losing about $108,000.
“Even though the district was notified of this $108,093 shortfall just last Friday, Okanogan School District, over the last 20 years, has built up its reserves to absorb unforeseen losses even in the middle of a school year,” Okanogan Superintendent Richard Johnson.
McBride said learning mid-school year that the funds will not arrive could require some budget maneuvers for some school districts.
“Everyone hopes that the SRS Act will be re-authorized,” he said, “but as we know, this is an uncertain time.”
Federal forest distribution changes
Below is the breakdown of the federal forest distributions from last year, compared to this year: