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Originally published Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Schools' operating budget OK'd

It's still not clear whether Seattle teachers and principals will agree to absorb $4 million in state funding cuts, or whether Seattle Public Schools will have to postpone buying textbooks or reduce expenses some other way. But the School Board approved a $578 million operating budget anyway Wednesday, after reducing expenses by $45.5 million.

Seattle Times education reporter

quotes Before anybody at the school district complains they don't have enough money, they... Read more
quotes It's still not clear whether Seattle teachers and principals will agree to absorb $4... Read more
quotes The state allocated the $2M for a non profit, but the school district chose to reject... Read more

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It's still not clear whether Seattle teachers and principals will agree to absorb $4 million in state funding cuts or whether Seattle Public Schools will have to postpone buying textbooks or reduce expenses some other way.

But the Seattle School Board approved an operating budget for the upcoming school year anyway Wednesday, with that last problem yet to be solved. The vote was 6-0, with Vice President Michael DeBell absent.

District officials said they are still in negotiations with teachers, principals and other union-represented staff members who, under their contracts, don't have to accept pay reductions even though the state lawmakers are sending districts less money for salaries.

To balance the state budget, lawmakers voted to reduce its salary allocations for teachers and other school staff members by 1.9 percent. For principals and some other administrators, the reduction was 3 percent.

The debate over the $4 million is the last piece in a 10-month discussion about how to trim $45.5 million in expenses from what ended up as a $578 million budget for the upcoming school year.

Like school districts across the state, Seattle had a tough budget year.

Even with help from local property-tax levies, and two years of extra dollars from federal stimulus programs, Seattle school officials say rising expenses outstripped revenues. And in addition to the salary reductions, Seattle is losing another $10 million in state revenues.

Board members said they didn't like the budget but felt it was the best they could do under the circumstances. They said they tried to minimize the impact on students. They saved $8.9 million, for example, by eliminating 90 jobs from the district's central office. And they approved two- or four-day furloughs for all central-office staff — a first for the district. That will save about $188,000.

Board members said this budget brings central-office expenses to about 6 percent of the district's expenditures, down from 9 percent a few years ago. The 9 percent drew criticism because it was a higher percentage than many neighboring districts.

The district also plans to save $4.6 million by rearranging school-bus routes and reducing bus service.

Still, President Steve Sundquist noted that the budget is an unsustainable one, relying on $17 million in one-time reductions.

In all, Seattle's budget still totals about $11 million more than last year. But that's because of increasing expenses and, in Seattle's case, a jump in enrollment. The district grew by about 1,000 students last year, and next year projections are estimating roughly 1,000 more.

The district is not adding new programs or employees, said Duggan Harman, executive director of finance. And those introduced in the past few years are being scaled back or eliminated.

But the district has given raises to roughly two dozen staff members in the central office since September.

Earlier Wednesday, Sundquist acknowledged that it's tough to communicate why the district would give those raises while it cut funding for elementary-school counselors and summer school.

But as the district eliminated the 90 jobs from its central office this spring, he said, some people ended up with significant new responsibilities, and the district wanted to compensate them fairly.

Teachers and principals also are scheduled under their contracts to receive a 1 percent raise in the upcoming school year, which might offset some of what they might agree to give up in the current negotiations. And teachers who are working their way up the salary schedule also will still receive increases for each additional year of experience, or for earning advanced degrees.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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