Board proposes cuts for next school year
By Jack Kintner
The Blaine school district, pinched by rising fuel costs, increased personnel expenses and an untimely enrollment slump, will have to cut as much as $655,000 or roughly 3 percent out of its $21 million budget next year, forcing cuts in classified staff hours and a wide variety of other programs.
The budgeting has been going on for some time but on Monday of this week when the board held a public work session, over 70 faculty and staff attended to question the board’s decisions about where cuts should be made.
Among other things, Blaine Education Association president and seventh grade teacher Janet Mumma questioned the wisdom of maintaining a 6 percent budget reserve, one of the highest in the area for schools of Blaine’s size. “Rainy day reserves are made for this kind of situation,” she said, “so let’s use the reserves we have.”
Mumma said there’s a laundry list of problems created by the cutbacks. “Teachers were not given much of a chance to influence these proposals,” she said. One proposal she made was that the board educate teachers in real terms about the budget, assess the impact on student learning and then make decisions about needed cuts together.
Former education reporter and Blaine teacher J.J. Jensen echoed Mumma’s concern about the size of the reserve, saying that most other districts get by with a three to five percent reserve.
Library aide Tricia Johnson said in an e-mail that she did not think that the cuts being made are what is best for the students. “I normally work a 7 hour day and will now have to cram what I do into four hours.
Some of the things I do include scheduling and overseeing 21 classes during book check out, running a reading program called Battle of the Books, research for teachers, minor computer repair and tech assistance, and I also work with students who need homework help, not to mention running our Book Fair which is a huge fund raiser for the library in a time when the library budget is almost nonexistent.
“If my hours in the library are reduced, we would not be able to offer most of the items I have just mentioned. In fact I would be hard pressed to schedule most of the classes for book exchange around the rotation schedule, let alone getting books put away.”
Superintendent Ron Spanjer sympathized with the concerns of faculty and staff but said that he didn’t think it was wise, nor did the board, to dip into reserves to fund what will be a continuing problem. “This is not a one year fix but a long-term adjustment,” Spanjer said.
Those sentiments were echoed by district business manager Donna D’Angelo. “We need that reserve to maintain our flexibility. It can only be spent once, and it’s needed for one-time expenditures,” she said.
She also said that as an example of how much costs have increased this year, “as of last week we’ve spent our annual allocation for fuel for the entire year.”
Spanjer said that two line items accounted for more than $355,000 of the projected cost increases for next year (September 2008 through August 2009), state-mandated cost of living increases for all staff and an increase in the local share of retirement fund contributions.
The recommended cuts, still being adjusted as figures are updated, include roughly 70 hours per week of classified staff time as well as two full-time teaching positions, which will be covered by retirements. Spanjer said that staff cuts will be worked out through a seniority process, and that there may be some shifting.
Other areas to come under the knife are administration and central support, curriculum, building budgets, professional development and the athletics program.
The amount, $655,000, is a maximum, Spanjer said, and could be less. Various budget categories are being thoroughly searched for available funding. A possible bright spot, for example, was pointed out by D’Angelo. “If our general fund reserves are high enough we may be able to make next year’s non-voted debt payment from this year’s general fund reserve, saving $103,000 of expenditures next year,” she said.
The board had planned to approve the plan at its next meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 28, in Point Roberts, but at the request of some teachers Spanjer and the board agreed to an extra meeting in Blaine in early May to finalize the plan.