Highline Schools Targets $2 Million In Cuts In Wake Of State Funding Shortfall

by Ralph Nichols

Cutting $2 million from a public schools budget already pared down is no easy task. Cutting $4.5 million, with a new academic year just three months away, is even more daunting.

Yet this is what Highline School District administrators and board members have been forced to do – and are doing.

The state’s 2011-13 biennial budget – adopted late last month by a cash-strapped Legislature, by then meeting in special session – provides reduced funding for K-12 education.

Now Highline school officials are grappling with local impacts of this legislative budget-balancing action.

Recommended cuts totaling $2 million, already made public, will be part of the overall cost-reduction package included in the district’s draft 2011-12 operating budget, which Superintendent John Welch will present to the Highline School Board at its June 22 meeting – here are his recommendations:

Click image to see larger version.

A public hearing by the school board on the new budget is scheduled for Aug. 10; the adoption of the budget set for Aug. 24.

Proposed reductions totaling $2 million include the reduction of two management and five classified staff positions, eliminating the first-grade Challenge program, moving to a six-period day at Highline High School, reducing contractual services expenses, and stringent management policies and practices.

Welch told The B-Town Blog that school resource officers aren’t included in projected cuts in contractual services.

Reducing the budget by another $2.5 million is more difficult.

The Legislature passed a 1.9 percent reduction in funding for teachers compensation on to local school districts. But, said Welch, while Highline is a district that uses the state salary schedule for teachers, “we have local bargaining agreements so it’s not that simple.”

State lawmakers basically said “here’s the [funding] cut you’re going to take, now figure out how to do it,” Welch added. “That is where we’re at.”

And this process is more cumbersome because it involves negotiating with separate bargaining units for classroom teachers, principals and other employees.

“We would not be able to do that very well without their help,” said District Chief Financial Officer Susan Smith Leland.

“We’ve had a good cooperation for a long time … they’re there to help us figure this out so that whatever cuts we make [don’t] impact kids.”

Leland said district cuts in compensation could be to salaries or benefits or a combination of both – “but we want to do that without layoffs. We want to try to do that without having people have to lose their jobs.”

Extracurricular programs including athletics, music and drama are not in danger of being eliminated at this time, she said. “Sometimes we have to choose. Right now we don’t have to do that. But we’re able to if we have to.”

Welch said that earlier the school board authorized a reduction in force of up to 45 employees. Notices were sent to 25 that their positions are “at risk.” The full number of notices didn’t need to go out by the May 15 deadline because of retirements and resignations.

Highline School Board President Sili Savusa said June 8 the district now needs “to take a closer look at what it means to provide a high quality education for kids” by maintaining curriculum, retaining quality teachers and giving them “access to the tools they need to educate kids.”

For students, this means “that we don’t remove programs that we know have been successful,” and that “classrooms aren’t stuffed with children because of cuts,” Savusa added. “I mean all kids. Every kid we’re responsible for deserves a great education.”

She said the district also must find new ways to sustain programs, “to think outside the box,” including developing partnerships with the private sector and municipalities.

“I want everyone to know we want to hear from parents and students and the community” in this process. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is our community, these are our kids.”

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