Issaquah schools could lose $2.2 million under governor’s proposed budget plan

December 6, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

“We will be looking at a trimmed-down operation,” said Jake Kuper, the Issaquah School District’s chief of finance and operations.

He said district officials largely had managed to keep financial cuts from directly impacting classrooms. But Kuper also said he doesn’t know if that will be possible if Olympia slashes local funding even further.

Kuper was talking about how funding cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire might affect the Issaquah schools. In making the cuts, Gregoire said she needed to close a looming $2 billion budget shortfall. To mitigate any spending reductions, Gregoire already has asked legislators to place a three-year, half-cent sales tax increase before voters in March. State lawmakers are in the midst of a special session to deal with budget questions.

The cuts proposed by Gregoire, which the Legislature can accept or change, would reduce funding to area schools by $2.2 million, according to information released by district administration. Kuper said in the past four years, the district already has seen $16 million in state funding reductions.

“It’s another claw-back in the middle of the school year,” said Phyllis Runyon, head of the Issaquah Education Association, the local teachers’ union.

On Nov. 28, Runyon’s union members took to the streets around Issaquah schools protesting proposed cuts, part of a “Day of Action” held in districts around Washington.

The cut that would most significantly affect Issaquah schools would be, beginning in 2012-2013, possibly shortening the school year from 180 days to 176 days, according to Sara Niegowski, executive director of communications. The idea could result in a funding loss of $1.85 million to the district. That’s not a popular idea locally.

“We need to add more instructional time and opportunity into the school year to squeeze in all the learning that’s essential for today’s students,” Issaquah Superintendent Steve Rasmussen said. “The governor’s cuts-only plan is a colossal step backward.”

“I think it does a lot of damage,” Runyon said.

She said many students have trouble retaining information with the school year in its present form.

Other cuts that might reach Issaquah schools include a $360,000 reduction in funding for employee health benefits, according to Niegowski. Another reduction would slice bonuses for National Board Certified teachers from $5,000 to $4,000. The change would affect 81 local teachers.

In talking about the potential cuts, Runyon agreed that the district administration had done a laudable job of keeping cuts away from students.

“I don’t think the parents or the children realize what has been cut,” she said.

Issaquah PTSA Co-President Janine Kotan said most often budget reductions hurt the people who need the help the most. As a group, the PTSA sent a barrage of emails to legislators. Kotan said if cuts in the state budget are necessary, legislators need to remember the state constitution makes funding basic education a paramount duty.

Kuper said Olympia might not be the only funding source making reductions. He said the federal government might be slicing dollars benefiting low-income students by about $500,000.

“It’s really hard to peg the federal impact at this point,” Kuper said.

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