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Schools get $500K state budget reprieve

Sequim school officials are faced with cutting about $1.3 million from the 2009-2010 budget, half a million dollars less than the "worst case scenario" they prepared for.

The school district got a slight reprieve late last week when Washington state senators and House legislators approved a two-year-budget that, despite some severe cuts, keeps key education funds to local school districts in 2010 and 2011.

The state budget still needs the signature of Gov. Christine Gregoire. Although the governor this week has called for a special session to hash out other budget details,

Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley said he doesn't expect the state budget numbers to change.

Washington's newest budget shows Sequim schools officials need to cut $1.3 million in what the district offers, down from $1.8 million in cuts Bentley and a finance committee had projected. Those larger cuts were based on a "worst case scenario," Bentley said, mostly coming from the state Senate's proposal in March. The state's new, collaborative budget drastically trims funds allocated to districts through Initiative 728 - a voter-approved initiative from 2000 that helps districts keep class sizes low, among other things - but keeps intact funding for kindergarten through fourth-grade projects.

Sequim's school board still needs to reduce $1.3 million in programs and it begins Thursday (see box) when board members make initial cuts to staffing. At the April 23 school board meeting, Bentley announced that an original recommendation to cut seven-to-10 classified staffers might be more like 10-15.

But after state legislators conferred on the budget during the weekend, Sequim's superintendent said he'll

recommend trying to keep more teachers.

"I think it's real clear that (with) ... all the input we've received, it would indicate the clear majority that any funds we have beyond that $1.8 million reduction, we're going to be applying that to classroom teachers," Bentley said.

"We did have (discussion) to bring back some programs to some degree," he said Tuesday afternoon. "Our conversation today was, 'What can we restore (from the first proposal)?'"

Bentley also hopes to give board members a clearer picture of the state budget's impact upon Sequim schools at this week's meeting.

Washington state's $35 billion budget passed through the House on April 24 and the Senate on April 25. According to state sources, the budget bridges a $9 billion gap between expected spending and revenue; $5 billion of that comes from federal bailouts and $4 billion comes through spending cuts.

Earlier this school year, Bentley and a financial committee drafted a list of cuts that would reduce staff by more than 30 employees, suspend purchase of new curriculum and technology, create a pay-to-play program for athletics, reduce spending for supplies and transportation and other cutbacks.

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.





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