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04-18-12: Draft budget proposes investments in student learning
04-18-12: Draft budget proposes investments in student learning

Superintendent Tony Apostle’s draft 2012-13 budget plan proposes investing in instructional programs and services to improve student achievement while also outlining a series of reductions and efficiencies to meet an estimated $7.6 million shortfall.

“Given our limited resources, our goal is a budget that keeps our primary focus on our core mission of student achievement,” said Corine Pennington, executive director of business services.

Pennington unveiled the proposed spending plan last month during a series of community and employee budget meetings. Apostle will review the written feedback submitted during those meetings as he develops his recommended budget, which is expected to be released the end of May.

The first of two public hearings on Apostle’s recommended budget will be held by mid-June, with a final public hearing and board action slated by the end of June.

Based on enrollment projections, Pennington said the district expects to have 230 fewer students next year. The projected enrollment drop, combined with anticipated reductions in state and federal funding, make up the bulk of the estimated $7.6 million budget shortfall.

The draft spending plan proposes that $1.3 million be spent this next year from district reserves on a new “Graduation Matters — Puyallup” student achievement initiative.

During her budget presentations Pennington told audiences, “The superintendent wants you to know that it is imperative that Puyallup improve its graduation rate for all students.”

The proposal includes allocating money for programs and services such as interventions for students who aren’t passing state assessments at elementary schools that do not meet Adequate Yearly Process (AYP).

To make AYP, a certain percentage of students in a school or district must pass the state’s reading and math tests each year.

Apostle’s draft spending plan also proposes spending money on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) instruction, and the expansion of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program into grades four through seven.

AVID, already offered in junior high and high schools, is a college readiness program that targets average student achievers. By learning proper study habits and receiving regular support and encouragement, AVID students discover they have the potential to succeed in junior high, high school, and college.

Apostle also proposes setting aside $350,000 to replace teacher laptop computers that are failing. The computers are at least eight years old since they were purchased after the last successful school bond election in 2004.

To balance the budget, the draft spending plan proposes cutting the equivalent of about 30 full-time staff positions and reducing about 30 percent of the time that classified employees provide library support.

The staff reductions do not, however, necessarily translate to layoffs once retirements, resignations, and other factors are considered, Pennington said.

As much as $1 million is expected to be saved by creating more efficient bus routes with the use of a Web-based computer software system that the district purchased last year.

The district also plans to save $200,000 a year from the installation this year of energy-efficient lighting across the district.

Last year, the state Legislature enacted a 1.9 percent reduction in the amount of money it gives school districts for employee salaries. Apostle staved off the employee cut this school year but recommends it be passed on to all employees in 2012-13.

The state also eliminated money last year to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through grade four. Puyallup chose to phase in the staffing reductions as a result of that funding loss over two years, and Apostle recommends the second half of that staffing reduction be taken next year.

Savings in administrative expenses are also among Apostle’s recommendations. About $230,000 would be generated by the elimination of a half-time position in the Communications department, savings from renegotiated copier machine contracts, and the elimination of payments on the Education Service Center administrative building. The office building was paid off in December.

The proposed reductions are the latest in a string of budget cuts in recent years, Pennington said.

The district closed two schools (Riverside and Hilltop elementary schools), reduced, eliminated, or found efficiencies in student learning programs and services; reduced administrative positions; and reduced support services in areas such as transportation, custodial, maintenance, communications, technology, and instructional materials.

The district has also developed some creative solutions, Pennington said, to the problem of declining revenues. Such solutions have resulted in efficiencies in various departments.

These include the modernization of the Transportation routing system, relocation of the elementary QUEST program for highly capable students to eight regional school sites, and movement of elementary band and orchestra classes to the junior high schools as a program offered before school.

Puyallup is not alone in its budget challenges, Pennington said, adding the economic downturn is felt statewide, nationally, and globally.

“When the economy does turn around, however, we will be in a very good place because we have consistently anticipated and prepared for tough economic times,” she said.

State Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-25th District, attended one of last month’s budget forums in Puyallup and praised the district’s financial stability, even during the recession. He served on the Puyallup School Board from 2001 to 2009.