Students speak up about district-wide budget cuts


Olympia School District

Members of the Olympia Robotics Federation (ORF) shared speeches at an OSD board meeting on April 13, 2023. STEM programs are still on the cut list despite student advocacy.

$11.8 million. That’s the budget deficit the Olympia School District is facing for the 2023-24 school year due to declining enrollment and depleting ESSER funds. While this deficit threatens staff, parents, and the Olympia community, students are disproportionately impacted and often feel voiceless.

In response to this issue, OSD created a budget survey asking community members to rank their funding priorities in education and extracurriculars. Though 1,093 responses were recorded, only 4% of those respondents were students.

So, on Wednesday, March 29, Board President Darcy Huffman visited OHS in search of student opinions. Huffman asked the students to consider one question: “What can we live without, and what do we need?”

After more than an hour of discussion, students decided that out of 69 possible budget reductions, continuing to fund college specialists, paraeducators, and elementary music programs was most important.

Donut chart depicting the 2022-2023 budget by expenditure activity.

Junior Hadley Manista communicated the importance of the College and Career Readiness Center as well. “Eliminating the CCRC is the worst thing we could do. College specialists are important. They ensure that a whole range of students can be successful after high school. Counselors don’t have as much experience with that,” Manista stated.

Advocating alongside her peers, Unified partner Sydney Peters was passionate about paraeducator funding.

“We can’t do Unified sports without paras; they are our foundation and something we need. A lot of Life Skills students rely on paraeducators and while we have more than what we legally need, we have what our school thrives for,” Peters explained.

Students were also adamant about equipping young musicians with the skills they needed to succeed, especially when it came to 4th and 5th-grade orchestra and band.

They reasoned that if the school board cut elementary music programs, fewer students would participate in future music classes, and students who did participate would have less playing experience. The foundation for high school orchestras, especially those at OHS who have won state distinctions, would be affected.

“If we don’t offer elementary strings, the kids who can play at a high level are those who have money and resources, which isn’t the equitable community we want in our district,” Manista added.

As for services that students agreed could be discontinued, remote learning and free printed calendars for families were at the top of the list due to how replaceable and impractical they were.

The most controversial subject, however, was Cispus, the $275 million 3-day outdoor camp where fifth graders experience the outdoors, participate in challenge courses, and bond with each other, all under the supervision of high school volunteers.

A few students thought the experience could be replicated in a different setting and keep important leadership aspects, while others expressed fond memories of unique connections formed with younger peers.

After reflecting on the meeting, senior Mayo Rasmussen expressed that while it went well, Huffman didn’t arrive until the meeting was halfway over. “When she showed up, it started to feel like she was treating us like young children. I felt disrespected by her actions throughout the meeting,” they remarked.

“I’m glad the board reached out to us, but I felt like they did that so they could say they listened to us. I feel bad that these budget cuts have to be made, but some programs are definitely not necessary,” Rasmussen concluded.

The district budget will be approved by July. In the meantime, more information can be found on, and community members are encouraged to share their opinions by either attending board meetings or emailing [email protected].