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Schools may trim $1.8M

The chasm between what Sequim schools are and what they may look like for the next two years is more than a million dollars wide.

Facing the largest budget shortfall in state history - and some of the biggest cuts to education Washington state has ever seen - Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley is asking school board members to consider more than $1.8 million in program reductions.

They would eliminate more than 30 teachers and other staffers, suspend buying new curriculum and technology, create a pay-to-play program for athletics, reduce spending for supplies and transportation and make other cutbacks.

"All of this is very difficult," Bentley said. "There isn't a place that's not impacted."

Sequim school board members will host a community meeting April 16 at the high school cafeteria to get public input regarding the cuts.

The $1,8230,000 in programs cuts in Sequim mirrors Washington state's projected $8.3 billion shortfall. While budget proposals by Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state House of Representatives make significant reductions to education statewide, neither budget is so severe as the state Senate's proposal.

"We all know that some reductions are unavoidable in the current fiscal situation but some of the proposed cuts being considered go much too far," state superintendent Randy Dorn wrote in a letter to state legislators on April 9.

All three budgets show cuts to voter Initiative 728, passed in 2000 to help reduce class size and expand opportunities within schools.

"When I-728 goes away, that leaves our secondary programs most vulnerable," Bentley said.

State legislators are scheduled to agree on a budget by April 26. If the Legislature has not finished work on the budget by then, Gregoire may call for a special session (one or more) of 60 days until the budget is completed.

The impact: fewer teachers (and corresponding higher class sizes), fewer updates in technology and books, reduction or elimination of programs and - with no foreseeable economic upswing -- scant hope that the cuts will stop here.

"We're certainly hoping that's the worst-case sce-nario," Bentley said.

Bentley shaped his cuts to prepare Sequim schools for this "worst-case" scenario and had input on his proposal. The district formed the Superintendent's Fiscal Advisory Committee, a group of school board members, administrators and a community member, to prepare a prioritized list of program reductions.

Hoping to keep off the reductions list the programs that affect students the most, the committee and Bentley came up with more than $1.8 million in possible program cuts.

While board members have until August to draft and adopt a budget for the next academic year, they must approve reduction-in-force notices by May 15 to staffers whose positions are being eliminated.

"Ultimately they (school board members) are going to have to make the decision of what kind of program we're going to have," Bentley said.



The cuts

Below are Bentley's recommendations to the board. These recommendations are posted on the school district Web site at: www.sequim.k12.wa.us.

_ Reducing the certified teaching staff by nearly 10 full positions, including one at each elementary school, nearly three full-time teaching spots at Sequim Middle School and nearly five full-time high school teachers. Savings: $576,000

_ Reducing spending on curriculum and technology upgrades by 50 percent and 20 percent of facility upgrades. Savings: $280,000

_ Elimination of teachers on "special assignment," plus cutbacks to talented and gifted program. Savings: $210,000

_ Reducing hours to secretary, teacher aide, maintenance/custodial and transportation staffs. Savings: $205,000

_ Reduction of librarian staff from four positions to two. Elementary schools would share one librarian, as would middle and high schools. Savings: $120,000

_ Institute a pay-to-play program, charging athletes $75 per activity. Freshman (C-team) squads are cut, as well as junior varsity middle school teams and postseason pay for coaches. Savings: $100,000

_ Reduction of supplies and materials. Savings: $62,000

_ District nurse position is eliminated. Savings: $50,000

_ Extra contract days for counselors, librarians, secretaries, athletic director and more. Savings: $42,000

_ Elimination of First Teacher Program. Savings: $42,000

_ Elimination of school resource officer. The program that funds the position is no longer available. Savings: $40,000

_ Reduction of one half-time position of counseling staff. Savings: $30,000

_ Some vocational director responsibilities are reassigned to administrative staff. Savings: $25,000

_ Reduction of technology support from Educational Service District from three days to two. Savings: $20,000

_ Cuts of 40-50 percent in travel budget. Savings: $15,000

_ Elimination of Head Start at Sequim Community School. Savings: $6,000



Bridging the gap

Bentley did offer a glimmer of hope in the form of about $350,000 in financial aid in the form of a federal stimulus package. But that number has dropped from more than $450,000 from weeks ago and, as board members noted, may drop even more.

Bentley noted that federal dollars often come with restrictions upon them. The school district may be able to spend those funds solely on Title I (reading assistance for students) and IDEA (federally-fund special education) programs.

Furthermore, there's no indication that the federal government would help beyond the state's two-year budget.

Complicating matters still is a drop in enrollment in the district, albeit slight. Sequim schools have 2,720 students enrolled as of April, down 25 students from April 2008.

"We're concerned that economic conditions (are affecting enrollment)," Bentley said.

The superintendent said the district is considering spending up to $250,000 each year from the district's ending fund balance, the dollars left in district coffers at the end of each fiscal year.

In a traditionally frugal district, Sequim school board members want to keep the general fund at no less than

5 percent of the annual budget. Over the years, Sequim school boards have been conservative and now carry about 8 percent in an ending fund balance, much of it from unspent I-728 funds.

"We wanted to position ourselves as best we could to help mitigate the (shortfall) problem for the next two years," Bentley said.

With the current ending fund balance at about 8 percent, Bentley said he could foresee the district utilizing some of that to offset program cuts, particularly if enrollment continues to decline.

A maintenance and operations levy could help offset cutbacks but the district is in year three of a four-year levy. Voters have a chance to approve or deny the district's next levy proposal next February at the earliest.

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.







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