Budget plan invests in student achievement

A 2013-14 draft budget plan released last month proposes investing in instructional programs and services to improve student achievement while also outlining reductions and efficiencies to meet an estimated $4.7 million shortfall.

“The goal is the improvement of instruction and student achievement,” said Chief Financial Officer Corine Pennington.

Pennington unveiled Superintendent Tim Yeomans’ draft spending plan last month during a series of community and staff meetings.Image

Participants were invited to submit written comments at those meetings for Yeomans and the five school board members to review before a recommended budget is released in August.

In addition to spending money on new elementary science kits, the budget proposes funding the last year of a new elementary school literacy adoption, as well as services and programs to help students graduate from high school.

Money is budgeted again this year, for example, for a credit retrieval program to help students falling behind in their classes. Students attend a computer lab outside of regular school hours, retake classes online, and earn credits needed for graduation.

Additionally, money is provided to support a smooth transition between elementary and junior high, and between junior high and high school. Each spring, students in sixth and ninth grades are transported to the junior high or high school campus they will attend the following year to see the school, meet students, and participate in welcoming activities.

The $196 million draft budget also sets aside money to expand the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program to six more elementary schools.

AVID is a college readiness program that started at Emerald Ridge in 2006, expanded to junior high schools the next several years, and launched in the first six of the district’s 21 elementary schools last fall.

Money is also set aside in the draft budget to contract with an outside agency to provide professional counseling to students struggling from substance abuse. The state used to provide these resources but eliminated the services two years ago, Pennington said.

“Those students still need our help to be successful, and we have been continuing to provide those services so that they can have a better chance at graduating,” she said. Puyallup’s 84.3 percent graduation rate exceeds the state average (76.6 percent).

During one of this year’s budget feedback meetings, Pennington illustrated the importance of earning a high school diploma.

“Graduation rates are really important to us,” she said. “If students don’t get their diploma, their salaries are affected by about 37 percent right out of the gate, and their chance of unemployment doubles.”

The 2013-14 budget also outlines a 1 percent salary increase for teachers in the second year of a negotiated five-year contract. Additionally, about $75,000 is budgeted (mostly for staff training) related to the state’s new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP).

The new way of evaluating principals and teachers is a component of a broad education reform bill passed by the Washington state Legislature in 2010. The bill calls for significant changes in principal and teacher evaluation systems, including the introduction of a four-level evaluation ranking.

The school district’s budget is also affected by fluctuations in enrollment.

Enrollment districtwide is expected to dip next year by 85 students. The decline is anticipated to be at the elementary level. Junior high and high schools are expected to have a slight increase. Long-term, the district is projected to experience significant enrollment growth over the next decade.

Operating increases and additional needs will be offset by cost savings or reductions in other areas, Pennington said.

The district’s new science adoption, for example, will be phased in over two years instead of one. Less money will also be available for instructional materials such as workbooks and replacement textbooks.

Federal sequestration cuts, estimated at $813,000, will affect the funding of several federal programs; the largest being Special Education and the Title 1 program. Title I provides additional reading and math services to students in the district’s highest poverty schools.

Additionally, about $1.2 million was carried over from last year’s ending fund balance and will be designated as part of the solution to the budget shortfall.

Even with this year’s budget challenges, Pennington said, “This is the smallest budget deficit we have had in years.” In the past five years, she said the district has had more than $32 million in budget cuts.

The next step in the budget preparation process is for Yeomans to present a recommended budget in early August. The community will be invited to comment on that proposed spending plan at two public hearings before the school board considers adoption at the end of August.