School district, board limit staff cutbacks

With a slightly rosier budget outlook heading into the 2009-2010 academic year,

Sequim schools are keeping as many teachers as they can.

The Sequim School District board of directors agreed last week to retain all but about five certified teachers in 2009 after a preliminary state budget trims $400,000 less than previous estimates.

The $35 billion state biennial budget still needs Gov. Christine Gregoire's signature, but would mean Sequim could offer $1.4 million in programs and staffing less than what it does now, Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley said last week.

That's better for the district than the $1.8 million in cuts a "worst case scenario" one preliminary state budget showed, Bentley said.

Sequim's board agreed to a preliminary "modified" education program last week, cutting about five staff positions, though not all of them are full-time positions. The cuts include one math teacher, one social studies teacher, eight-tenths of an art position, two-tenths of a science position and one-sixth of a music position.

Staff cuts are seniority-based; those teachers with less experience are more likely to get cut.

Bentley said that weeks ago administrators were preparing to cut up to 15 or 16 teachers.

"While it is a positive that we're not dealing with $1.8 million (in cuts), we're still dealing with $1.4 million (in cuts) to your program," Bentley told board members last week. "That's a big number. That's more than just a big number. That's programs and people."

The board needed to notify teachers by mid-May that they may not be retained in the next school year. Bentley said he will hand out the reduction-in-force notices personally.

Classified employees, noncertified staffers such as secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and other personnel, don't need to be notified until 30 days before their going back to work, Bentley said, but he said he hopes to let as many of those employees as possible know their fate as soon as their teaching brethren.

"It's our intent to notify them as soon as we can," Bentley said. "We'll try to do it in May."

The "modified" education program still shows districtwide cuts to librarian staffing, supplies and materials, technology upgrades, athletics funding and more.

Despite talk at a meeting two weeks ago that board members hoped to retain at least part of the First Teacher program - a resource for parents of prekindergarten children - that program remains on the list of intended district cuts.

That seemed to perturb board member Walt Johnson, who expected to see the program preserved.

Board president Sarah Bedinger and others said First Teacher and other programs on the proverbial cutting block still could be retained before board members have to approve the 2009-2010 budget in August.

Bentley said the district may see some improvement in the $1.4 million figure, but that the figure likely won't change significantly.

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@

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