Schooldistrict anticipates tough budget battles ahead

Published on Thu, Jul 22, 2004 by ack Kintner

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School district anticipates tough budget battles ahead

By Jack Kintner

The state-required public review of the school board’s budget will be one of two major items on the agenda at their regular meeting next Monday night, July 26. The other is the appointment of a replacement for board member Deb Hart of Point Roberts who resigned last month due to the demands of her permitting business.

Though several people were interested, at press time the only applicant for Hart’s unfinished term who met all the criteria was Red Goodwin of Blaine. Goodwin, 52, is in telecommunications marketing and with his wife Sylvia has a son, Ryan, who is a junior at Blaine high school.

As they contemplate the $16.3 million budget it takes to serve the 2,000 students in the district, the board will find itself “in pretty good shape,” said Blaine school district superintendent of schools Mary Lynne Derrington, “because we’ve set priorities and have stuck to them, but things are getting tighter. Next year is the first of a new biennium (two-year legislative period with one long legislative session followed by a shorter one in the second year) and we expect more funding cuts.”

As it is, Blaine spends more than the state requires on teacher payroll to help maintain small classes. The new budget adds four positions, one to replace a primary school position that the state cut last year, another in eighth grade out of local funds generated by the school levy, a high school math position and another that is spread among several different positions to give them more time. “We’re anticipating big middle school classes soon,” she said, “and we need to be ready.”

Among the priorities Derrington listed were maintaining small class sizes and a comprehensive curriculum, developing ways of dealing with concerns raised by the required Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test results and making a response to the state mandated but unfunded changes in the reading curriculum.
“It’s now called communication arts,” said Derrington, “and includes not just reading but everything from spelling and writing to public speaking.” The budget assigns $100,000 this year for mandated curriculum updates from kindergarten through grade five, “but beyond that we don’t have the money. It’s the number one priority if any money is left over.”

Two other unfunded mandates, where the state requires schools to do things it doesn’t pay them for, are senior projects and the training for and purchase of new software. Skyword is used to make Blaine’s payroll, student records and maintenance schedules part of a larger program, and the new version is $3,500 for purchase and initial training.

“The budget allows for us to bring summer school back in 2005,” said Derrington, “as one way of dealing with kids who have trouble with the WASL.

In looking for places where economies might be made, eliminating the extra activity bus to Point Roberts has been mentioned, and was the subject of public discussion at the June board meeting. It has been suspended before but was reinstated following requests from Point Roberts parents.

School district figures indicate that last year (2003-2004 school year) the bus, which costs roughly $16,000 per year to operate, carried an average of less than five students per trip. This works out to slightly more than $9 per trip per student. On two trips 10 students were riders, and on 10 occasions no one showed up to ride.

Neal Teutsch, a 2003 Blaine high school graduate and Point Roberts resident now in college in Santa Clara, California, worked for several months in the winter of 2003 with the Point Roberts Transportation Committee to get the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) to put Point Roberts on a public bus route. The WTA’s response was to give Point Roberts a community van, now known as the Blue Heron Express.

“The issue for high school students” Teutsch said last year, “is to give them a chance to participate in extracurricular activities.” Interviewed earlier this week, Teutsch said that this is still a need for school students who live at the Point. “It’s not their own bus,” he said, “but the students can schedule it just like anyone else. It was one of the reasons we got it in the first place.”

Teutsch also said that increased gas costs and a growing school-age population means that transportation will continue to be an issue for Point residents.