News

School district looks at cuts

By Judy Halone-The Courier-Herald

In an attempt to recover from a deficit of more than $2 million, members of the Sumner School Board will vote April 30 in a special meeting on proposed budget cuts for its 2008-09 school year.

The suggested cuts were presented at the district's April 9 regular monthly meeting by Margo Stewart, executive director of business services.

“As part of the board report, we presented a list of possible ideas for reductions in expenditures proposed by staff and administrators that (Superintendent) Gil (Mendoza) requested,” Communications Director Ann Cook said. “The list included ideas to reduce costs as well as ideas for generating additional revenue. Some of these ideas will be explored and others will not - this is part of the process we must undertake in order to develop a balanced budget.”

Included in the proposal are the projected reduction in enrollment of approximately 200 students; reductions to the teaching staff; initiating pay-to-play sports; reducing building budgets; condensing school start times by 20 minutes; eliminating mid-day kindergarten bus runs; limiting administrative interns to dollars funded by the state; and eliminating one of two assistant superintendent positions.

Sumner School Board member Sherm Voiles said the problem is not exclusive to the district.

“Districts across the state are being faced with budget cuts,” Voiles said. “In my view, (it is due to) the state's reallocation of the funding formulas, or the state's inability or unwillingness to fund education.”

With the $2.5 million loss, Cook said adjusting expenditures is based upon the decreased student enrollment.

“The revenue calculation already reflects fewer students, but we have not yet calculated the impact to the expenditure budget,” Cook said. “Fewer students means fewer teachers, which means a reduction in staffing - most likely through attrition.”

Cook added that the district will calculate those adjustments this week.

Student enrollment will factor into how many staff members will be reduced, but Stewart's worksheet presentation noted the possibility of “15-11 FTE (full-time employees.)”

The pay-to-play sports proposal suggests user fees of $25 for high school, $15 for middle school and $10 for elementary students.

Voiles said such fees are not uncommon for school districts.

“It's something that districts throughout the state have done from time to time,” he said. “It won't have a huge impact overall in the district budget. But I think when you're making very difficult cuts in educational needs, pay-to-play sports makes sense. In the fees they are proposing, those are fairly modest compared to some districts; I've heard some charging as much as $150 for sports. My understanding is the proposal provides a waiver or scholarship for kids who have demonstrated some financial (need).

“But certainly, we don't like having to charge fees for things like sports that typically the district has been able to pay for,” he said. “But when you're looking at impacting the quality of education in the classroom - because of some of the budget issues - there's obviously some cuts or additions to review that are hard decisions to make, but necessary.”

Transportation's elimination of the mid-day kindergarten bus run is in line with what the department has done over the past two years to help tighten its belt as much as possible while keeping students' safety and the district's budget in mind.

“I know we're looking at the kindergarten bus run,” Voiles told Stewart. “Transportation (today) compared to the old days is a killer cost.”

“The state covers half of our transportation costs. The rest comes out of the levy,” Stewart said.

Voiles said the district so far has provided a “boutique door-to-door transportation system.”

“Transportation is an issue you'll never make everyone happy with,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Craig Spencer agreed.

“We snugged up to a one-mile walking radius around all the schools,” Spencer said. “There are 65 kids on those buses and that results in less drivers. We get complaints and we work through it.”

Concerning the elimination of the assistant superintendent's position, that decision has already been made, Voiles said.

With the board voting in just two weeks, Voiles said the district is facing tough financial times.

“I was very pleased this year that the state Legislature did come up with a pay increase for teachers of just over 5 percent,” he said. “But it still wasn't enough to make up for the deficit the teachers have seen in their own incomes over the years when they had very little in their pay.

“It was encouraging that there was some recognition from the state Legislature that they needed do to something to address funding problems in the state of Washington.”

Judy Halone can be reached at jhalone@courierherald.com.

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