Schools budget is a work in progress

February 24, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

With this year’s state budget deficit, district officials are keeping a close eye on their budget development process and are asking for community input. District officials like Jacob Kuper, the district’s chief of finance and operations, are busy working to create the 2009-10 school year budget, in the midst of a potential $8 billion state deficit.

Without a firm budget adopted by the state Legislature, Kuper said, he can’t guess what might have to be cut from the budget, but he is preparing for several outcomes.

“As these cold days transition into milder spring temperatures, I wish there was some hope that we would likewise go out like a lamb while weathering the state’s financial crisis in coming months,” Superintendent Steve Rasmussen wrote in a letter to the community. “However, it looks like we are in for all tiger: Every week, the state budget gap seems to grow in response to stormier economic forecasts.”

When Gov. Chris Gregoire issued her budget Dec. 18, the state budget deficit was projected at about $5 billion. Her budget cut nearly $3.5 billion in health, corrections, parks and education. The impact to the Issaquah School District was a $2.34 million reduction in funding.

However, as the legislative session has gotten under way, deficit estimates have grown to between $5 billion and $8 billion.

One thing the governor’s budget and potential legislative budgets have in common is the weight being given to cutting Initiative 728 funding, which pays for smaller class sizes. If those funds are reduced, the outcome would be increased class sizes and fewer teachers.

In the governor’s budget, Kuper said, roughly $1.4 million of the $2.34 million reduction was linked to I-728 funding, which would mean cutting about 20 teaching jobs.

However, if all I-728 money is cut, the district would have to reduce its budget by $7.2 million, Kuper said. That equates to roughly 80 teachers and about 32,000 professional development hours.

And that may not be the worst of it. The Legislature’s budget could cut other state-funded professional development days and/or additionally reduce funding for other teaching positions, Kuper said.

“We are uncertain at this point what a worst-case scenario could be, as the Legislature is still in session and neither the House nor the Senate has provided a budget,” he said. “The best possible scenario was the budget released by the governor.”

In his letter, Rasmussen explained that district officials have been going to each building to find new cost-saving measures, like eliminating open positions, and talking about teacher layoffs.

His letter also explained some of the year-to-year cost savings district officials have implemented, like becoming more energy efficient and tightening bus routes.

“This is a situation we didn’t create as a district — we have kept our house in exceptional financial shape — and so we are in a waiting game as the Legislature puts together a budget that will pull direct funding sources from our educational programs,” Rasmussen wrote.

As district officials continue to craft the budget through spring and summer, they are relying on the community’s best thinking for how to conserve money for educational programs, he wrote.

As a result, people are encouraged to share their ideas, by sending e-mails or attending board meetings.

Residents can also get involved by staying up to date with affairs in Olympia or joining other professional and parent organizations, like the PTSA, in lobbying.

E-mail your thoughts about the school district’s budget to Budget2009@issaquah.wednet.edu.

Critical budget

planning dates

March 19: New economic forecast from the State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council

April 20: Issaquah Education Association members are informed of potential layoffs and the level of seniority required to guarantee a position next school year.

April 26: Last day for regular legislative session — A special session may be convened to resolve the state budget.

May 15: Reduction in force notices are given to certified staff members who may be laid off.

May 27: Last day for public testimony regarding use of I-728 money, if funds are available.

July: Preliminary budget hearing

Aug. 17: Final public testimony taken regarding the district’s 2009-10 budget

Aug. 31: School board members adopt a final 2009-10 budget.

Source: Issaquah School District

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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