District mulls tough choices

Published on Wed, Mar 2, 2011 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine school administrators have served warning that the 2011-2012 budget will involve painful personnel and program cuts.

During an update for board members at Monday night’s regular school board meeting, business manager Amber Porter and superintendent Ron Spanjer said staffing and program reductions are all but inevitable for the 2011-2012 school year.

They pointed out the district has (over the last three years) disproportionately relied on cuts to school, office and facilities maintenance supplies.

The nature and degree of the cuts won’t be known until the state legislature finalizes the budget. The state needs to plug a nearly $5 billion budget gap.

Taking a cautious approach, Spanjer said the district budget proposal would take a worst-case approach at least until the state finalizes a budget in May or June.

“The worst-case scenario might be more than is needed,” Spanjer said. “[The question is] how deep do we have to go to make sure we’ve gone deep enough?”

The timing of the state budget is critical. If staff reductions are made, the district must, by law, issue lay-off notices to its certificated employees, which include teachers, counselors and administrators, by May 15.

 In addition to the state budget, other unknowns include the number of employees who will decide to retire or resign and the impact of collective bargaining agreements with unionized employees.

Governor Chris Gregoire has proposed freezing all scheduled teacher salary increases, Spanjer said. If enacted, the district would be on the hook for any agreed-upon increases to unionized employees, he explained.

When school board president Charles Gibson asked how much such scheduled pay increases, called “step” increases, might cost the district, Spanjer said those numbers had not been calculated.

Despite the budget uncertainties, review committees have spent the last few months exploring reductions in district expenditures, from athletics and physical education to transportation and food service.

Proposed budget expenditures will get a public airing at two public budget forums, scheduled for March 22 and April 18, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.The fiscal review committees’ report can be found online at www.boarddocs.com/wa/wabsd/Board.nsf/Public.