Schools’ financial outlook sours

Next year’s budget may be a lesson in subtraction for Bainbridge public schools.

The district will lose an estimated $642,761 after cuts in the state education budget passed by the Legislature Thursday night, as part of the 2001-03 supplemental operating budget slated to be signed into law by Gov. Locke at the end of March.

“Both locally and statewide, the frustration level is so extreme,” said Bainbridge schools Superintendent Steve Rowley.

“The Legislature has shown itself very resistant to the pleadings of people in education,” he said. “Locally, we’ll try to find creative ways to absorb some of these losses. That’s our challenge.”

In a presentation to the school board Thursday evening, Deputy Superintendent Ken Crawford outlined what the cuts are likely to mean for Bainbridge schools.

The lost state funding would cancel out the potential benefit to the district of I-728 monies and the new “Flexible Education Fund.” The revenue from those two sources – $99,792 and $82,967, respectively – will reduce the net loss to the district to about $460,000.

Reductions include $113,419 from teachers’ pay and $24,405 from “Student Safety” money that underwrites the district’s security guard.

The loss of $9,000 from the Learning Assistance Program means less help for students struggling to read.

Losing the $57,976 slated for “learning improvement days” means that one of the three days a year teachers spend in such staff development activities as reviewing instructional materials will not be compensated.

Cuts to vocational education, to programs for gifted students, to block grants for educational enhancement and to funds for building supplies are also likely.

The effect of the budget cuts is amplified by mid-year “adjustments” to the education budget by the Legislature in 2001-2002.

The loss of $100,000 due to state “underfunding” affects employee fringe benefits, a retiree subsidy and other items – gaps the district will cover.

“They ‘adjusted’ the budget,” Crawford said. “I’m concerned about the ethics of a mid-year budget cut without prior notice – and that applies to the cuts overall as well.

“There was no opportunity for public comment or for us to review the impact.”

But Bainbridge schools, with a conservative 2001-02 budget that has the district spending 1 percent under revenue, may be less affected by the cuts overall than the majority of districts currently funding programs out of reserves.

Teachers, as well as district administration, have reacted unhappily to the bleak budget picture.

“School employees knew this was coming. Everybody has to refocus and remember this was a mid-session,” said Bainbridge High School teacher David Layton, a member of the Compensation Action Task Force – a Washington Education Association committee charged with organizing, but not calling for, a statewide teachers’ strike.

“The real fight will begin this fall,” he said, “and into the next legislative session.”

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