District in wait and see mode on budget cuts

(Some changes have been made to this story to correct some errors in wording.)

School districts statewide are in a holding position as the Washington State Legislature works through a special session to decide the 2011-13 biennium budget.

The state House and Senate are negotiating a compromise between each of their proposed K-12 education budgets. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray (D-Seattle) was quoted by the Seattle Times as saying he expects the session to last no more than two to three weeks.

The Legislature is deadlocked on a Senate proposal for a 3 percent pay cut for K-12 workers that would save $251 million. The proposal is not in the House or Govenor's budgets.

If it passes, it would increase the proposed Bainbridge Island School District budget gap to $1.8 million.

BISD Supt. Faith Chapel is like many administrators around the state who are wary of approaching deadlines.

With the passing of Resolution 07-09-10 – declaring a fiscal emergency due to anticipated reduction in revenues – by the school board at the April 14 school board meeting, the district is now working on reductions in force (RIF) notifications to certificated employees. State law mandates that RIF notices must be served by May 15.

Notifications can be postponed until June 15 if the state budget is not approved by the May 15 date, but Chapel said the district cannot wait that long.

“We’re doing this with incomplete information,” she said. “It’s more uncertain this year than the past three years. It complicates matters significantly.”

Chapel said there will be a special school board meeting next Thursday to discuss the reductions.

The board will also go over the recommendations from the district budget advisory committee on what to cut from next year’s budget.

According to the more than 1,000 who were surveyed, the three areas that people felt that cuts could be made were the middle and high school athletic program, the number of school days and the custodial program.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said the district should increase athletic fees by $50, which would save up to $35,000. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed favored a reduction to the school year of one to up to five days, which would save $120,000 per day if the proposal being debated in the Legislature is approved.

The areas those surveyed wanted to protect most were class sizes across all grades, the K-4 library program, and the K-4 and the 5-6 counseling programs falling in the middle.

Laura Firman, who has a daughter in kindergarten, is part of a grass-roots campaign to keep the district from making cuts to the counselor program.

“Our counselors are key to strong hearts and community,” she said. “We cannot lose these valued members of our schools.”

Boo Schneider, President of the Bainbridge Island Education Association, said she hopes the cuts can be minimized.

“(The cuts) are a difficult thing to swallow,” she said. “Not just for Bainbridge but statewide it would be devastating.”


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