Schools prepare for cuts

December 29, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

State impacts could be $2.3 million

More than $3.5 billion has been cut from the governor’s state budget for the 2009-11 biennium and schools are planning for cuts, even before the legislative session begins.

What school officials, teachers, families and education organizations have their eyes on are $610 million in cuts to public education; $682 million in elimination of pay increases to state employees, including teachers; and $216 million in cuts to higher education.Overall, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget would mean Issaquah school officials would need to cut $2,344,500 from its budget, according to Jacob Kuper, the district’s chief of finance and operations.

The big picture

Gregoire’s proposed cuts to public education would come from a 33 percent reduction in levy equalization payments, payments that support districts with small property-tax bases to rely on, and a 24 percent cut to Initiative-728 funds designated to reduce class sizes.

The elimination of pay increases to teachers and other state employees would go against voter-approved Initiative 732, which requires cost of living increases for teachers. The Legislature can vote to suspend the initiative.

The $216 million cut to higher education would reduce the budget at four-year public universities by about 13 percent. Universities would be allowed to increase tuition by about 7 percent. Similarly, the cut would reduce the budgets at community colleges by about 6 percent, but tuition could be raised 5 percent, under the governor’s plan.

Possible effects

The governor’s proposed 24 percent cut to I-728 funding would mean Issaquah School District would need to cut $1.46 million from their budget. It may have to seriously consider staffing ratios, since the money is directly tied to class size.

“Programming is essentially staff and a ratio of students per staff member,” said Sara Niegowski, ISD communications director. “The cost of running the district is putting staff in classes — that’s about 85 percent of the budget.”

If the legislature cuts all I-728 funding, the district would lose $7.2 million in state funding. That translates into about 80 certificated staff members, cutting 30,000 certificated professional development hours and funding for early intervention programs for pre-kindergarten students, said Connie Fletcher, an Issaquah School Board member.

Fletcher said her information comes from an education finance meeting held with state legislators in October.

Fewer teachers mean an increase of students in classes. The cost associated with increasing or decreasing class size by one student is roughly $2 million, Niegowski said.

Increases in health care for employees would cost the district about $332,000. The budget would also need to cover the cost of increases to retirement health benefits and pensions. The governor’s budget passes $445,000 in additional costs to the district.

The district has already been tightening its belt, Niegowski said.

In the past few years, district officials reduced overhead by making buildings more energy efficient, recycling, and relying on the Issaquah Schools Foundation to help pay for new curriculum. Most notably, the district cut transportation to students within a one-mile radius of schools.

Looking ahead

The governor said that no cut is too small to pursue. The cuts may go even deeper if the Legislature doesn’t approve dipping into the state’s rainy-day fund or if the state doesn’t receive an estimated $1 billion from the federal government via the economic stimulus plan.

District officials will keep a close eye this session and update their financial plans to accommodate decisions, Niegowski said.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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