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Draft budget to be unveiled in March

Brace for more budget cuts.

This is the message facing educators statewide, including here in Puyallup, as they begin their annual budget planning for the next school year.

Puyallup School District’s leadership team arrived at the budget planning table last month to begin the difficult task of preparing a balanced 2011-12 draft budget in the face of another year of declining state revenue.

The draft budget is expected to be unveiled early next month. Community members are invited to give feedback at forums on March 14-17. Locations and times of these forums are listed at the end of this article.

The governor, faced with a nearly $6 billion state budget deficit in the next two years, has proposed a series of cuts to K-12 education for the 2011-13 biennium. The state Legislature began meeting last month to consider her proposed spending plan.

Puyallup has already been hit hard in recent years with state revenue reductions. Cost-saving measures have included closing Riverside and Hilltop elementary schools, as well as making cuts to transportation, custodial services, maintenance, communications, and technology.

The district has also reduced the number of administrative positions in the central office by nearly 20 percent between 2004-05 and 2009-10.

Direct instructional services have also been hit, including cuts to all day kindergarten, remediation, programs for highly capable students, library services, music, instructional coaches, summer school, professional development (teacher training), and instructional materials.

In December, the district invited representatives from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to share an update on K-12 school finance in Washington during a special school board meeting at Rogers High School.

“It’s not good news today,” OSPI Chief Financial Officer Shawn Lewis said as he outlined proposed budget cuts. But even with the economic downturn, Lewis encouraged the 100 educators and community members in the audience “to continue to do the right things for kids over the next few years.”

Sen. Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup) was in the audience and accepted an offer by the board to make some remarks. He said, “This is the worst recession we have had since the Great Depression.”

Kastama said he expects the state will not begin to show substantial economic improvement for another 2 1/2 years. While the state faces a nearly $6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 biennium, he warned of a $10 billion shortfall in the following budget cycle.

Since that presentation, Gov. Chris Gregoire released her 2011-13 budget and a supplemental budget. The following is a synopsis of some of the proposed cuts to K-12 education and how those cuts, if approved, would impact the Puyallup School District:

  • Reduce levy equalization payments by 6.3 percent. The money helps K-12 school districts that have lower levels of property-tax support. This would result in a $600,000 reduction next year to the Puyallup School District’s general fund.
  • Suspend annual bonuses for National Board certified teachers. There are 94 Puyallup teachers who have earned this certification, which equates to $480,000 in bonuses.
  • Delay school bus depreciation payments. This money helps the district to maintain its bus fleet, including the purchase of new buses and repairs on existing buses. In Puyallup, this could significantly delay the replacement of old buses or require the district to use operational funds to pay for those replacements, said John Knutson, executive director of business services..
  • Eliminate dedicated funding for the highly capable/gifted program. In Puyallup, this would equate to a $194,000 shortfall.
  • Suspend cost-of-living increases for school employees for a third and fourth year, and freeze funding of salary steps and increments for teacher experience and additional education.
  • Eliminate K-4 class size enhancement money. This money pays for additional teachers to lower class size in kindergarten through grade four. If approved, Puyallup would lose $2.0 million per year — equivalent to nearly 24 teachers — in 2011-12 and in 2012-13.

In addition to her proposed cuts, the governor announced a series of cuts for this current year during a one-day special Legislative session in December. The Legislature approved those cuts, including the elimination of K-4 class size enhancement money for the remainder of this current school year. In Puyallup, this equates to a loss of $1.15 million in state revenue.

“It’s likely that the Legislature will take further action to make the cut effective for the entire year, which would bring the total loss in the current year to $2.0 million,” Knutson said.

Because the district already had contracted bargaining agreements with K-4 teachers for this school year, it must draw money out of its General Fund reserves to cover the loss of revenue, he said.

If the governor’s proposed elimination of state funding for lower class sizes in K-4 in the next biennium is approved by the Legislature, the average class size in those grades would increase by an average of three students per classroom in the next two years.

The Puyallup School Board has set a goal of maintaining a minimum five percent General Fund ending fund balance (reserves), exclusive of carryover commitments, in order to demonstrate financial stability and be responsive to emergency needs.

“If the district chooses to continue programs or services such as lower class sizes by using local levy funds, it must make corresponding cuts in other areas or draw down General Fund reserves — a short-term solution that could put district finances at risk,” Knutson said.

2011-12 draft budget community forums

March 14: 9:30-11:30 a.m., Education Service Center

March 15: 6-8 p.m., Ballou Junior High School Commons

March 16: 6-8 p.m., Edgemont Junior High School Commons

March 17: 6-8 p.m., Puyallup High School Commons