Bethel Budget and Future Planning – Spring 2024

Common Questions & Answers

When will Clear Lake close?

Clear Lake will remain open for the 2024-25 school year and will be closed by the 2025-26 school year. 

How will this decision impact school boundaries?

We know that many of our school boundaries will be affected by the closure of Clear Lake. Members of district leadership, in partnership with our school board, are currently working to establish new boundaries. We hope to share proposed new boundary plans by mid-April. 

Where will current Clear Lake students attend school?

Bethel district leadership and the Bethel School Board are currently working with transportation and operational staff in the district to make this determination. We hope to share an answer with staff and families by mid-April. 

Bethel Budget & Future Planning

Bethel has been grappling with a persistent budget deficit over the past few years. Despite our strategic efforts to minimize the impact on our students, staff, and families, the deficit remains a pressing issue that requires action.

Budget Deficit: Why are we here?

For the last several years, the district has made a strategic decision to operate with deficit spending by relying on district savings to maintain services. District leadership and the school board have been closely monitoring expenditures and revenue during this time period as we have continued to recover from the pandemic. 

The main factors contributing to these financial challenges include: 

  • Continued declining enrollment:  Over the past 10 years, we’ve lost about 700 students – more than half of them since the 2019-20 school year when the pandemic began. School districts are funded on a per-student basis, so fewer students means less state funding.
  • Rising costs: Inflationary pressures have impacted our ability to keep pace with spending. The cost of staff salaries and benefits rise by about 8% each year and are the primary expense for the district. 
  • Lack of adequate state funding to keep up with inflation and increased needs: Funding from the state does not match our current expenditures and has not kept pace with inflation.

How will this shortfall be addressed this school year?

To address these challenges in the short term, we have made the strategic decision to utilize reserves to reduce major interruptions to student learning. At the same time, we have taken actions to gradually reduce expenditures through reductions in staffing, programs, and district spending. More substantial reductions are needed because continuing to spend reserves is not a sustainable long-term solution. 

How will this shortfall be addressed in the long term? 

At at Board Work Session on Monday, March 18, the Board identified a need for approximately $2.6 million in cuts and reserve spending for the upcoming 24-25 school year. To address this, the Board has Bethel staff to implement a combination of cost-saving methods, including spending down part of the district’s reserves, slightly increasing the student to teacher ratio and reducing spending in all departments. 

Closure of Clear Lake Elementary School 

Due to a 10-year declining enrollment resulting in under-utilized classroom spaces in most of our elementary schools, the Board decided at its March 18 work session to move forward with school consolidation. A driving factor in this decision was the desire to offer strong programming at all schools moving forward. Clear Lake Elementary was selected as the school that will be closed. 

Why Clear Lake?

The decision to close this school was made by the Bethel School Board after carefully reviewing various factors such as the school’s age, its current condition, enrollment numbers, and anticipated future maintenance needs. Following thorough consideration, the school board concluded that closing this particular school was the most practical course of action. At tonight’s work session, the Board was particularly concerned about how this decision would impact students in our Life Skills program at Clear Lake. Board members charged the district with working to ensure that impact to those students is minimal. 

What does this mean moving forward? Closure timeline, boundaries & staffing impacts

  • It’s important to note that Clear Lake will remain open next school year (2024-25) and will not close until the 2025-2026 school year. 
  • This decision will change school boundaries across the district. Bethel staff will be working to determine these new boundaries and share information as soon as possible. 
  • Details about how the school will be utilized in the future and other next steps have not yet been determined. 
  • We will soon have information about how this will impact kindergarten enrollment and possible student transfers.