Schools bite the bullet in budget shortfall

April 30, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

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Layoff notices going to 158 Issaquah teachers

Issaquah School Board members voted unanimously to lay off 158 of its 1,097 teachers Wednesday night, after district officials presented their reduction in force plan.

Teachers can expect to receive layoff notices by May 1.

Their contract stipulates that layoffs are based on seniority. Teachers who fall from No.1 to No. 902 on the seniority list are guaranteed positions next year. Teachers who are at or below No. 903 will receive layoff notices.

The positions of up to 195 — 17.8 percent — of the district’s teachers are likely to be eliminated. Thirty-seven teachers have already resigned or weren’t provided continuing contracts for next year.

“We are looking at a number, but we are also looking at people,” said board member Jan Woldseth. “I want to take a moment to realize the emotion behind this decision, the position we are in and take a moment to appreciate that this decision is impacting people’s livelihood, as well as the impact it will have on our classrooms.”

After the district’s budget and enrollment numbers are finalized, several teachers who receive lay-off notices could be called back to work, Kuper said. Callbacks are determined by specialty and seniority.

That recall will likely go on through the summer, said Ron Thiele, associate superintendent.  

District officials made the cuts to combat an estimated $10.5 million reduction in state funding expected this year due to the state’s $9 billion budget gap, said Jacob Kuper, chief of finance and operations for the district.

If the district didn’t draw the line conservatively, officials may have guaranteed more teachers jobs than they could have afforded in the coming year.

“I hate to notify one more person than I need to, but as chief financial officer, I have the fiduciary responsibility to ensure the solvency of the district,” Kuper said.

Although, the state’s budget hasn’t been approved, the district’s contract with the teacher’s union stipulates that teachers must get first notice of potential layoffs by April 22. 

“I think this is an extremely sad day for the students and public education system in our district,” said Neva Luke, president of the Issaquah Education Association. “It goes back to the fact that the Legislature has never accepted responsibility to fund public education. If funding for public education had been given along the way, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

District officials recommended making $2.17 million in additional cuts. Those reductions will come from hours people work in the maintenance, operations and transportation departments, at the central and building administration levels, and those who are educational assistants or secretaries.


Renton eyes shuffling teachers, bigger classes

Renton School District students could see some new teachers from within the district, more children in classes, and athletes might have to rely on parents or others to drive them to sporting events.

Those are a few possible scenarios school district officials are examining to deal with the potential loss of $6 million in state money in the 2009-10 district budget. 

The Renton School District, like other districts in the state, is facing severe budget cuts because of a $9 billion deficit in the state budget. 

“There are still quite a few things unresolved, because the $9 billion deficit is unprecedented,” said Rich Moore, district assistant superintendent for business and operations. 

The district receives 67 percent of its funding from the state for basic education staffing. About 23 percent comes from local levies and 10 percent from Initiative 728. In 2000, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved I-728, a class-size reduction initiative. Federal money for staffing is negligible, about $40,000, Moore said.

The state Senate budget calls for a 93 percent reduction in I-728. The state House budget calls for a 60 percent in I-728.

The district has used I-728 to hire 66 teachers. But Moore said the district would probably not eliminate the positions to balance the budget.

“You may have had a job teaching the second grade, but next year you could be teaching third grade at a different school,” he said.

Class sizes could be larger next year, but the district wants to maintain its class size goals of 24-to-1 students-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade and 29-to-1 in intermediate and secondary classrooms.

Randy Matheson, the district spokesman, said the district typically hires 100 new teachers each year, due to teachers retiring or choosing to move to a different district that may be closer to their home. Layoff notices will be given to certified staff members May 15.

The district is assuming a worst-case scenario in its budget projections, Matheson said. In addition, district officials still don’t know what to expect until the Legislature convenes and the governor signs the budget. 

“We’re going to do everything possible to keep jobs,” Moore said. “This will be a difficult process and cause some disconcert to staff at some buildings.”

District officials are also looking at cutting back on transportation to school and bus service to some sporting events, Matheson said.

“We’re looking to shore up some of the bus routes by timing them better to reduce some transportation costs,” he said.

Another option is to reduce the district’s support of the IKEA Performing Arts Center at Renton High School from $110,000 to $60,000.

The reopening of Honey Dew Elementary, near Hazen High School, could be delayed to save money. The school is being refurbished with money from a 2003 bond, Moore said. 

The district held public meetings at Hazen High School and three other locations, seeking input from residents on cuts to the budget.

Moore said district staff plans to present its budget plan to the school board at its May 13 meeting.

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