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01-10-12: Committee recommends $10 million in budget reductions
01-10-12: Committee recommends $10 million in budget reductions

A first-ever advisory committee made up entirely of community members recommends that Superintendent Tony Apostle consider $10 million in budget reductions for the 2012-13 school year to help make up for a projected decrease in state and federal funding.

The Educational Priorities Advisory Committee, made up of parents, business people, retired educators, and other community members, presented a report of its work at the January 9 Puyallup School Board meeting.

“I’ll be pretty frank,” committee member Marcello Mancini told the board. “Although we were able to come with recommendations for your consideration, it was a challenging process. Trying to fully understand a $190 million budget brought a lot of questions and comments from those who participated.”

Mancini continued, “I think we came to the realization that the circumstances surrounding the task at hand were humbling and sometimes upsetting — humbling to know that we were going to play a part in a difficult budget process, and upsetting because our kids and our community could be significantly impacted by our recommendations.”

Fellow committee member Julie Curran added, “The decisions that we made at times were really gut-wrenching. It was an emotional process. You talk about programs and staff and people, and you see faces of people and of kids that you know. So you should know when you look at our recommendations that they were very carefully considered and very carefully debated. And there were many times that we didn’t agree.”

While the committee was tasked with identifying $12.5 million of recommended budget cuts, Curran said the task “really seemed impossible.” In fact, the 14 active members concluded three months of intensive work with a proposed $10.18 million in reductions.

Apostle will consider the advisory committee’s recommendations, along with input from administrators who serve on his 13-member Superintendent’s Cabinet, as he drafts a proposed spending plan for the next school year.

The draft budget is scheduled to be released in mid-March.

“My goal is to hand my successor and the school board a balanced budget,” said Apostle, who retires in June.

Apostle told the committee during its final meeting in December, “In order to balance the budget, we are going to have to cut vitally important people and strong programs. No one wants to cut vital programs, and now we are forced into cutting millions of dollars. It’s really going to be very difficult for all of us.”

The superintendent formed the Educational Priorities Advisory Committee — the first of its kind in the district’s budget planning history — after learning last fall of another round of projected revenue decreases to school districts statewide.

The Puyallup School District has made more than $25 million in budget cuts since 2008 due to diminishing state and federal revenue.

The district projects it will face about a $9 million shortfall next year. This estimate, revised from $12.5 million forecast last fall, is based on funding cuts presented in the Governor's budget and current economic conditions. The amount could change again depending on decisions made by the state Legislature.

As part of its research, the committee heard from district staff regarding topics such as instructional programs, budget history, enrollment, staffing levels, and operational costs. Staff also responded to numerous questions from the committee and provided written documents and other supporting information.

Tana Hasart, a local consultant and former president of Pierce College in Puyallup, facilitated the committee and helped prepare the group’s report.

Hasart described the committee as a “talented group of individuals,” many of whom have financial experience in the private sector and knowledge of district programs.

With unprecedented decreases in federal and state funding likely to impact the Puyallup School District now and during the next several years, Hasart wrote in the opening remarks of the report that information gathered during the budget development process “is even more critical than in the past.”

While individual priority is not attached to any of the committee’s recommendations to the superintendent, the report states that the members believe operational and broad-based recommendations should be pursued before those that are program or service specific.

The report also notes that legal, policy, contractual, or regulatory requirements could limit the district’s ability to implement one or more of the group’s recommendations.
The Educational Priorities Advisory Committee’s recommended budget reductions (listed in order of the greatest to the least projected dollar savings) are:

  • Reduce up to 40 full-time equivalent certificated staff. Teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, music specialists, and others are among those designated as certificated staff. Savings: $3.2 million.
  • Eliminate six supplemental days. Supplemental days are non-school days set aside for staff training, also known as professional development. Savings: $2.6 million.
  • Implement the 2011-12 salary reduction of 1.9 percent for all employees. The district used money in its undesignated fund balance to cover this reduction for one year. Savings: $2.2 million.
  • Find efficiencies in the Transportation department, including examining bus routes and stops, work assignments, and coordination of services. Savings: $1 million.
  • Reduce up to 10 percent (seven full-time equivalent staff) of specialists and non-classroom certificated employees. This category of employees includes those who work in departments such as special services, English Language Learners, and programs for highly capable students. Savings: $500,000.
  • Increase pay-to-play athletic and activity fees, reduce coaching and club adviser stipends, examine district policy on sponsorships, and pursue other athletic and activity reductions recommended by advisory groups. Savings: $400,000.
  • Reduce administration costs, realize efficiencies as vacancies occur, and staff at the state average. Savings: $230,000.
  • Consider recommendations made by the Educational Opportunities Committee about Walker High School. That committee was directed in January, 2011 to begin studying the potential relocation of Walker High School to one of the comprehensive high school campuses beginning in the 2012-13 school year. If appropriate, relocate the program to high school site(s). Savings: $50,000.

“We really appreciate the great work of the committee,” said Puyallup School Board President Greg Heath. “We are in unprecedented times.”