School year starts with new superintendent, cuts

Published on Thu, Aug 21, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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School year starts with new superintendent, cuts

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

Students heading back to school next week will see some changes, including a new superintendent and cuts to numerous programs.

Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington was named the new superintendent of Blaine school district, following the June 30 retirement of superintendent Dr. Gordon Dolman. Derrington, who has taught at all grade levels from kindergarten through high school, has also been a principal, assistant superintendent and most recently a superintendent at Chimacum school district, where she served for seven years.

�I feel that has prepared me well for the Blaine system,� Derrington said of her experiences. �I�ve been in large and small school districts and understand schools from many perspectives.�

Blaine is new to her, she said, but she feels welcome and is happy to be contributing to the system. �It�s a very supportive community that is very supportive of its schools,� she said. �It�s a great school with a great staff, and the people working here are really eager to do their best and move forward.�

Just as she entered the Blaine system, she was informed that the district would see a shift in programs, and some of them would be completely cut.

�This has nothing to do with me,� she said of the cuts. �Those were made last year.�

The list of budget cuts for 2003-2004 includes the elimination of turn-out buses, summer school for grades K-12, and homework centers, as well as a reduction in administrative staff, field trips, drama and coach�s salaries.

�The challenge I think, for Blaine, is that we�ve really been fortunate to enjoy solid finances,� she said, adding many other school districts around the state haven�t been as fortunate.

�All of the money from taxes here does not stay here,� she said, adding much of it is redistributed across the state. �School finance in Washington state is very complex.�

There are a lot of local issues, she said, but the control is largely state-oriented and Derrington believes that the district has never seen this before.

�Tightening up the belt is a recent thing for Blaine, and this is not something that Blaine is going to be happy with,� she said. �In my last 20 years of being in education, the biggest shift I have seen is from locally-funded and priority driven school systems to heavily-controlled state and federal system. We have a lot less control over the system than a lot of people think.�

Certain shifts and cuts could come back to life. �Possibly summer school could change,� Derrington said. �Maybe we can restructure that.�

She said one idea for adjusting summer school is to have students who attend those summer courses pay a fee for them.

�Some things have been set in stone, but it�s possible that some of these programs will be back,� she said.

The boys and girls tennis program has been cut from the budget, but there is potential for another alternative.

�Now that is set in stone, it has been cut,� Derrington said. �But there is potential for a cooperative program between Blaine and Lynden.�

A cooperative program, she said, allows students to participate as individuals with another school. In this case, interested tennis players could participate with the Lynden tennis program, but play under the Blaine banner. She said there has been one inquiry about this specific example, but noted the board has not approved it yet. Meridian and Lynden school districts, she said, have a similar arrangement with the student swimming program.

�This is win-win,� she said. �It allows students to still participate in these programs. It�s a common arrangement in small school districts.�

The academic and turn-out buses has also been eliminated. �The money that was spent on the bus has been reassigned to teachers� salaries,� she said. �What that reflects to me is that having teachers and having classes that have low student-teacher ratios is important.�

School enrollment doesn�t appear to be growing, she said, and revenue is about the same, but the costs are increasing.

�What that amounts to is we can�t provide some of the same programs,� she said. �The priority here, I think, is small class sizes and having good teacher student ratios. Some programs then have got to give,� she said, therefore, the cuts and shifts.

Budgeting, she said, starts in March, and this was before her time with the district. Derrington said she believes that the legislative session finally concluded in April or May and the cut list for the Blaine district was dated June 25.

�We�ve been going through budgets and cuts and making refinements,� she said, adding her first meeting with principals was just recently. �None of this (cuts) makes us very happy.�

Currently, the school is experiencing a large construction project that will create a new administrative building, gym, and other facilities within the district. Derrington said she believes people will want to know how the district could be involved in this construction phase, but still cut programs such as summer school.

�These are two completely different sources of revenue and cannot be intermingled,� she said about the construction and the school budget. �There is a legal impossibility to take money from construction and spend it on something like summer school. You just cannot legally do that.�

The school board meets on Monday, August 25 at 7 p.m. in the service building, across from the elementary school. For more information, call the school district at 332-5881.

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