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  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:07am

For years, the warning cry has been that poor pay and working conditions were combining to bring a teacher shortage.

Now, with enrollment dropping, a floundering economy and a state budget deficit, the Edmonds, Everett and Shoreline school districts, as well as others in the state, may have to lay off teachers.

It’s not what voters who supported recent school-friendly initiatives would want, but districts may have no choice.

Typically, more than 70 percent of a school district’s budget comes from state funds allocated by student count. Although exact amounts vary, each student brings about $4,000 to a district. Districts budget by forecasting the number of students they expect, and then adjust the budget when they see the actual numbers. In 2002-03, fewer students than expected showed up. For example, Everett schools forecast their numbers to go down and budgeted accordingly but the real number was 250 lower than the prediction. That’s $1 million not coming from the state. Everett superintendent Carol Whitehead said recently that many districts in the region saw similar drops.

This comes as some districts, such as Shoreline, have already endured cuts brought on by their own internal issues.

Then there is the $2.6 billion budget chasm staring at lawmakers.

Yes, voters recently approved initiatives 728 and 732 to fund smaller class sizes and higher pay, but those measures didn’t come with a way to pay for them. Even in good times, legislators would’ve scrambled to move money around. Now, with the deficit, there may be no money to move.

Some districts will be spending with one hand while cutting with the other. The difficult dichotomy comes when money restricted by law must be spent on things other than people, such as buildings or computers. While school administrators hands are tied in some areas, they must examine every other possible expense before looking at front-line teachers.

In business, when the market shrinks and less money is coming in, hard choices have to made. School officials are motivated by the calling to educate children, not turn a profit. Unfortunately, the same hard choices may be waiting for them.

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