School board to have tough budget choices ahead

Published on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The Blaine school district hosted another community budget forum Monday, April 18 in order to narrow down a list of potential budget adjustments for the 2011/2012 school year.

School district staff gleaned suggestions from nearly 50 pages of comments from the March 22 community budget forum to produce a list of about $1.7 million in budget adjustments for the upcoming school year. District superintendent Ron Spanjer said this list represents the worst-case scenario of state education budget reductions coming from Olympia and is dependent on what the state legislature’s final biennium budget looks like, which will not likely be known until late May or early June.

Spanjer said the budget adjustments include unavoidable reductions in staff, with possible cuts to custodial staff, food service workers and library technicians. The district is bound by contracts with its employees to issue reduction in force (RIF) notices no later than May 15.

The roughly 40 district faculty and staff members at the meeting represented the district’s latest effort to reach out to the public for input on the 2011/2012 school year budget. The next step is school board approval of a reduced education program outlining what budget reductions will need to be made. Board approval is required for reductions in staff.

The board will vote on a reduced education program at their April 25 meeting. Spanjer estimated 10 RIF notices will need to be issued before the May deadline.

The goal of the budget forum was to further narrow the budget adjustment list and identify possible alternatives to current proposed budget reductions. Meeting attendees were tasked with identifying cuts they thought should be reconsidered and finding possible solutions.

Most of the budget adjustments that meeting attendees thought needed reconsideration were staff related. Reductions in hours for library technicians seemed to be of particular concern because the technicians aid students in completing state standardized tests, which are all computer-based and given in May.

Library technician Sue Brimmer said reducing her hours by just one per day instead of the suggested two would allow her to be available to students from the morning bell rings to when school lets out, but  no longer than that. Cutting two library technician hours from each of the four school buildings will save about $40,000.

Other suggestions included having the Associated Student Body (ASB) fund additional services, such as the cost of staffing each school’s library before and after school hours. Currently, the ASB predominately funds the district’s sporting events.

District facilities supervisor Jim Kenoyer expressed concern that reducing support staff while still maintaining the majority of school programs would put stress on his custodial and maintenance staff. He noted the number of custodians has been cut from 15 to 12 in the last few years.

“We’re really stretching our support staff,” Kenoyer said.

Primary school principal Nancy Bakarich said custodians and maintenance staff can sometimes be taken for granted because they are always there whenever a faculty or staff member needs them. She said school programs are more visible and would most likely be noticed more if cut.

Despite the grim talk of staffing reductions, Spanjer was quick to note the school district would not be what is without the faculty and staff. He said the point of any proposed budget reduction is to keep as many opportunities as possible alive for the community’s children.

“This program is only strong because of you," Spanjer told the faculty and staff at the meeting. “Public schools have to stay strong if we’re going to be a strong community and a strong society.”

The Blaine school board will hold their regular meeting at 7 p.m., on Monday, April 25, at the district offices to vote on the reduced education program. To see the list of budget reductions distributed at the budget forum, visit: www.boarddocs.com/wa/wabsd/Board.nsf/Public, click on “Staff and Community Budget Forum,” then “View Agenda,” then “A Review of the Forum Agenda.”