Finances dominate discussion at Issaquah School Board retreat

February 21, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Finances and board “linkages” were two of several items on the agenda when the Issaquah School Board held an afternoon-long retreat Feb. 8.

The big question is whether or not the Legislature will slice basic education funding during the current biennium, said Jake Kuper, district chief of finances and operations.

In the past, Gov. Chris Gregoire has said the state needs to close a $2 billion budget shortfall. According to information previously released by the Issaquah School District, Gregoire’s proposed cuts could reduce funding to area schools by $2.2 million. The Legislature has the last word on any budget shuffling and the state House of Representatives may release its version of a new budget as soon as the week of Feb. 13, Kuper said.

“I believe we will have reduced revenues from the state,” he added.

In anticipation of what officials have described as mid-year “clawbacks,” Kuper said he has been studying various budget scenarios that include cuts of anywhere between $2 million and $6 million. There could be factors that make any cuts this year sting more than those made by the state in 2011.

For example, there is no federal stimulus money to fall back on this year, Kuper noted. On another front, district officials will be returning to the bargaining table with the Issaquah Education Association this spring. The IEA is the local teachers union.

While local officials can do nothing but speculate until the state acts, transportation dollars may end up being a legislative target, Kuper warned.

“There’s significant pots of money there,” he said, adding schools are under no legal obligation to provide students with school transportation.

For the most part, school board members seemed to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. One question from board President Chad Magendanz concerned whether or not the district might end up owing teachers overload pay if significant programming cuts become a reality. The question is up for interpretation, Kuper said.

 

School board ‘linkages’

During the last month or so, the board has held one-hour meetings — dubbed “linkages” — with both the Issaquah Education Association and the Issaquah PTSA Council. During the retreat, board members somewhat questioned whether those meetings represented time well spent.

In the case of the session with the teachers union, representatives from both sides said too much time was spent on introductions.

During the meeting, district officials and union visitors were asked to not only introduce themselves, but talk about a teacher who had an impact on them. The exercise took about half of the hour allotted for the overall session, according to IEA President Phyllis Runyon.

Still, the board and the union were able to touch at least briefly on a couple of substantive topics such as the budget, Runyon quickly added. In the end, the meeting, or linkage, was worth the time in her opinion, she said.

During the retreat, board member Marnie Maraldo suggested officials might want to set out specific agenda items for similar future sessions. If that is the case, the other side has to have a chance to put items on that agenda, stated board member Suzanne Weaver. The groups meeting with the board might perceive the linkage as their best opportunity to bring certain concerns before the board.

“I think we can, as a board, own those linkages more than we have,” board member Brian Deagle said.

Some discussion was spent on whether or not the board should hold regular meetings or linkages with area municipalities served by the district. Some city officials are much more interested in meeting with the board than their counterparts from other towns, offered several board members.

In the end, the board came to no hard decisions, but members said major school construction projects generally attract plenty of attention from local cities. Meetings between board and city officials could be timed to coincide with such construction. Perhaps the board should pick one city a year to meet with, Maraldo said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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