Tension building as district waits on state legislators

Published on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 by Pat Grubb

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“We’re playing the waiting game,” is how Blaine school district superintendent Ron Spanjer described the state education budget process now being played out in Olympia.

Speaking at the school board’s regular monthly meeting, held Monday, March 22 in Point Roberts, Spanjer said “We certainly hope that by April 26 the district will know the revenue coming from the state.”

That date is important as it comes hard on the heels of when the district is required by law to provide dismissal notice to any certificated staff who will be laid off. Not only is the district facing state cutbacks, it is also looking at the loss of over $300,000 in federal stimulus money that will disappear in the 2011/12 budget year. It is the double-whammy of the state and federal cutbacks that has forced district administrators and board members to consider an overall cut of 6 percent in the district’s budget.

Seeking staff and public input on potential cutbacks, the district held a forum March 8 to solicit ideas on ways to handle the shortfall in funding.

Spanjer’s observation that there was “a pretty significant emphasis on retaining music and art programs” was rejoined by board member Mike Dodd who said that attendees pretty much said “Retain everything.”

Over two pages of comments are listed on the school district’s web site (www.blaine.wednet.edu/bsd/Budget/communityforum); the administration has also received numerous letters and emails separately.

One idea being taken up across the country, moving to a four day school week, was brought up by Spanjer who described it as “a pretty quantum step for the district at this point.”

Overall, attendees coalesced around the subject of looking for cuts in non-employee related costs (NERCs) before making staff cuts. “Dig deeper into the NERCs,” “Keep reductions that least impact students (reduce NERCs, not people)” were two suggestions recorded by the administration.

Another area suggested for examination was the extracurricular line item totalling $500,000 in the budget. According to district business manager Donna D’Angelo, the line item refers to all expenses pertaining to activities taking place outside of the regular school day, not just sports as some have assumed.

D’Angelo told the board that out of $92,000 in athletic costs, around $40,000 goes to travel expenses.

In other district news, Blaine elementary school principal Kathy Newport has announced her retirement at the end of the current school year.

In response, Spanjer said “Newport’s leadership contributions have been invaluable to us all.”