County schools face a scary 2010

  • Tue Jan 5th, 2010 9:06pm

By Eric Stevick For the Enterprise

Local school leaders are keeping a watchful eye on state budget talks and preparing to pare their budgets further.

“We are obviously concerned about any further cuts to K-12 funding after the last round of state cuts,” said Edmonds schools Superintendent Nick Brossoit in a statement. “We are hopeful the governor and Legislature do better for schools in this coming session.”

A special task force of parents, staff and community members in the Edmonds district has been working since September to review budget cuts made this year, study possible sources of new revenue for next year, and identify new areas to cut if needed to balance the 2010-11 budget.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s recent proposed budget doesn’t include money for Initiative 728, which provided for smaller classes, training, and before-school and afternoon tutoring for nearly a decade. It is one of several education cuts totaling about $400 million that could be made as the Legislature addresses a $2.6 billion shortfall in the state budget.

Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, estimates that Gregoire’s proposal could lead to layoff notices for 5,000 teachers on top of 1,300 a year ago.

“The proposed budget is historic,” Dorn said. “It cuts away at the heart of what we consider basic education.”

Among other things, the budget proposal would:

• Suspend I-728 funding for smaller class sizes and other improvements to save $78.5 million. Under state law, it takes a supermajority of the Legislature to amend an initiative within the first two years of it passing. After that, it takes a simple majority.

• Suspend state money for all-day kindergarten in high poverty areas to save $33.6 million.

• Suspend a program that equalizes school funding between wealthy and poor school districts to save $142.9 million.

• Eliminate extra funding for kindergarten through fourth-grade education, a statewide program that reduces class size in the early grades. It would save $110 million.

“I’m very scared about next year,” said Scott Irwin, principal of Liberty Elementary School in the Marysville School District.

A year ago, Liberty was able to offer four all-day kindergarten classes. This year, because of budget cuts, there are two. Next year, there probably won’t be any, Irwin said.

I-728 was aimed at helping students reach higher academic standards required by the state. Statewide, 72 percent of voters approved the initiative in 2000 when the economy was robust. It received 73 percent of the vote in Snohomish County.

Last year, school districts received $458 for each full-time student under I-728. This year that amount dropped to $131 per student and that money is actually federal stimulus dollars. That federal money won’t be available in 2011-12.

I-728 not only provides school districts more money, it also gives more discretion on how to spend it.

Everett received $8.08 million from I-728 last year. That amount dropped to $2.33 million this year.

The district had to cut back sharply on a teacher-coaching program that brought math, reading and science specialists from within the district to work with students and teachers.

The funding loss will have widespread effects, such as losing after-school homework clubs and keeping high schools from adding college-level Advanced Placement courses because there won’t be money for the teacher training.

Less money to subsidize summer school tuition would mean some low-income students could miss out on an opportunity to catch up on credits.

“If they don’t have the money, we don’t know how we are going to do it,” said Mary Waggoner, an Everett School District spokeswoman.

The Edmonds School District would lose about $4 million under the governor’s proposal, according to Marla Miller, executive director of business and operations.

The governor’s budget is just one proposal. Others are expected from the state House and Senate. The governor also plans to release an updated budget this month, which would restore some of the proposed cuts, Miller wrote in an e-mail to district staff.

“Unfortunately, the intended restorations announced at this point would not help us,” Miller said. “Until we see her final budget proposal we will work with the details announced last week as our first set of working assumptions for next year.”

Eric Stevick writes for the Herald. Enterprise writer Melissa Slager also contributed to this report.