Sunday, March 30, 2008

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

Suburban schools feel budget pinch

In addition to statewide threats to education funding spurred by a $1.6 billion state budget deficit, some suburban school districts are bracing for budget shortfalls of their own in the fall — as high as $4 million in one case.

District officials blame declining student enrollments, higher utility costs and voter-approved cost-of-living increases for educators.

Any cuts at the state level will further hurt suburban schools, they warn, some of which have been struggling with enrollment drops — and as a result, fewer dollars — in recent years.

Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Renton and Edmonds are among districts devising ways to cut costs next school year. While nothing is certain until the end of the legislative session, districts are bracing for more cuts.

"The governor's proposed budget is supposed to be more optimistic than those coming out of the Legislature, so it could get even worse," said Bob Collard, Lake Washington assistant superintendent.

The result could be larger classes, fewer teachers, the loss of several state grants for safety and struggling students, and outdated textbooks and other materials. Administrators said they are working to keep cuts away from classrooms, but that will be more difficult if the state slashes additional dollars.

School officials at other districts, such as Bellevue, Issaquah and Northshore, said they are concerned about reduced state support but are more assured knowing they will at least have stable enrollments next year.

Bellevue Deputy Superintendent Karen Clark said she fears losing state and federal grants that have allowed the district to shrink primary classes from 25 to 20 students.

"We've made great strides in reducing class sizes this year, and it's important we hold on to that, but we're hearing that these grants may go away," she said.

Suburban schools aren't the only ones feeling the budget strain.

The Seattle School District, the largest in the state, will have to trim $11 million to balance its $450 million budget. It plans to make schools buy back central- office services with their own budgets to save money.

Officials attribute the shortfall to reduced state support, a new teachers-union contract and debt payments on a new district headquarters.

Here is a sample of four suburban school districts' budget outlooks for next school year:

• Lake Washington school officials are projecting a shortfall of $2 million to $2.4 million, based on projected declining state support, an enrollment drop, increased utility costs and paying cost-of-living raises for educators. It has a $158.6 million budget this year.

According to the governor's budget plan, the district could lose a block grant it has used to hire more elementary-school counselors and offer more teacher training, programs to track truants and help students struggling academically, and money to help pay energy costs and insurance, said Collard, the assistant superintendent.

Increased utility costs could mean a $700,000 hit to the district, he said.

The state's 3.6 percent raise for educators could cost an additional $720,000 because Lake Washington, like most area districts, hires more educators for more days than the state funds, Collard said.

Enrollment declines likely will cost the district an additional $1 million, with a projected 250-student loss, Collard said. The state pays districts roughly $4,000 per student.

Eastside educators and city planners speculate lower enrollments are caused by high housing costs, fewer babies being born and older residents not selling their homes after their kids graduate — hence, fewer young families moving in.

While educators are nervous about the impending cuts, Collard said he is confident they can keep most programs.

"Obviously, as the state's economic picture deteriorates, we become particularly concerned, but we're trying to keep cuts out of the classroom," he said.

Superintendent Karen Bates has asked district groups to prioritize programs. She will recommend budget cuts to the school board at a public study session Monday.

• The Mercer Island School District expects to fall short by up to $1.6 million of its roughly $30 million budget. Declining enrollment of up to 117 students is a big blow — a $468,000 loss — to a 4,200-student district. It lost 109 students this year.

Paying cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, to educators will cost the district $150,000 to $175,000, Associate Superintendent Mike Ziara said.

"When 82 percent of our funding is tied up in salaries and benefits, there will have to be some reduction in employment costs, and I don't know what that means yet," Ziara said.

• The Renton School District is planning for a $1 million shortfall, Assistant Superintendent Rich Moore said. Most in jeopardy, he said, are 10 teaching positions to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade.

"We're trying hard to avoid losing those positions," he said, adding that it would likely deal with the loss through attrition.

It could also lose its block grant for updating classroom materials and funding security in schools, he said. The COLA raises will cost the district $600,000.

• The Edmonds School District, while expecting a slight enrollment drop, is projecting a $4 million budget shortfall next year. The COLA payments to educators above what the state will cover will cost the district $1.6 million, business director Marla Miller said. It could also lose $1 million from the elimination of a fund for class-size reduction. If the district's budget shrinks, so does the amount it can collect from the levy, which could cost it an additional $1.2 million. And it will likely lose $400,000 in block grants it has used to hire additional teachers and classroom aides. "We're bracing ourselves and watching the Legislature very closely," Miller said.

Seattle Times
February 27, 2002


Anonymous said...

Deja vu all over again.

In fact, the quotes seem recycled.

Anonymous said...

Will Edmonds do the same as Lake Washington?---"Superintendent Karen Bates has asked district groups to prioritize programs. She will recommend budget cuts to the school board at a public study session Monday"."

I sure like the idea of a public study session! Do we have study sessions like that?

Anonymous said...

Its time for management to do their job and cut some management jobs. I know its tough to cut your lunch buddy but its time for these positions to get cut.
We at Edmonds are top heavy. The public needs to here the truth.

If were losing kids why do we need all those people at ESC?

Anonymous said...

The district has promised that it will not cut teachers to add class size (and therefore cut the budget). The word on the street is that all of the cuts will come from the head shed.

It is unclear what that means though because you know that MANY kinds of major cuts at the district
will affect kids. And this bunch doesn't seem like the kind that will cut each others jobs.

Anonymous said...

The District Support Center might have a bit more elbow room - if they ever build it.

Anonymous said...

Well, it sure wouldn't make cents (get it?) to build a beautiful palace while enrollment is dropping and budgets are being slashed!

Anonymous said...

Hey, what's 2 million to Marla; she spends money like it grows on trees, just look at what she paid for the Cedar Valley property! When it comes to classrooms, teachers, and kids, she could care less. As long as they all get their salaries, raises in pay and a good retirement fund, they are happy campers! Do they not realize the purpose of School District Administration is to support buildings and kids? I think NOT!

Anonymous said...

Hey lets all take a minute to celebrate the number 153.

Anonymous said...

Now 152!

Anonymous said...

Or we can note that we now have over 67,000 hits on this website. It wasn't long ago that we were noting 60K. We'll need our 90K check-up soon.