Updated: State Budget Hits Education Hard

Issaquah School district officials said the state budget cuts are likely to be $4.3 million for each of the next two years. The Lake Washington School District said the amount could be more than $5 million for the same period.

The  is likely to lose more than $4.3 million for each of the next two years and the could see more than $5 million in cuts for the same period under the compromise $32.2 billion budget bill reached by state lawmakers on Monday, district officials said Tuesday.

The money would come out of the operations budget for both districts and the cuts would affect salaries and staffing numbers - or class ratios. Under the legislative agreement, which still needed to be voted upon by Wednesday, there would be a cut of essentially 1.9 percent for base salaries for certificated and classified staff and 3 percent for administrators.

The certificated and classified staff group includes teachers.

“We are taking a significant hit in basic education funding,” Jacob Kuper, district chief of finance and operations, said in a statement. “This is on top of almost $12 million in cuts over the last two years.”

Kuper said that district labor groups use various salary models. In the coming days, he expects to have more details on how the reductions would specifically affect all the labor groups in the Issaquah School District.

“Based on both sides’ initial proposed budgets, there are no real surprises in this final document,” he said in a statement. “We came out worse than in the House’s proposal but better than in the Senate’s, so this really is a compromise between the two.”

State lawmakers are making spending cuts to close a more than $5 billion budget shortfall.

The Issaquah School District operates campuses, including , in Sammamish. The district has posted a comparison chart online, showing the cuts in the different proposals from state lawmakers.

In the Lake Washington School District, which operates Eastlake High School, areas that could see cutbacks include Medicaid allocations and Running Start, district spokeswoman Kathryn Reith said.

Administrators, she explained, are sorting through the details of the compromise bill. They need to begin immediate work on the next academic year’s budget – and incorporating these state cuts.

The district needs to have a budget ready by August, when the school board historically votes on it. “We’re hitting the ground running now,” Reith said.

Kevin Teeley, president of the Lake Washington Education Association, had questions about the compromise budget bill.

“From what I understand, it does deeply concern me that they’re taking more cuts to basic education when we clearly believe that they’re already in violation of the state constitution,” he said, referring to state lawmakers.

He also said the Lake Washington Education Association - which has 1,600 teachers as members - opposes the proposed pay cut. “We think the Legislature is looking in the wrong direction. The problem is a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” he said.

“They’ve literally given billions of dollars in tax exemptions and tax loopholes over the years. They haven’t analyzed them to see if they were effective.”

As Teeley understands the issue, state lawmakers will give districts 1.9 percent less money - which is equal to salary reductions for teachers at that rate. But, as Teeley understood the issue, it is up to the school districts on determining where to actually cut in the budget.

“Does it mean that it shortens the school year?” he said, adding that he hopes that teacher job cuts can be avoided in the Lake Washington School District through attrition.

A spokeswoman for the Issaquah School District said Tuesday that the group was waiting for additional information.

The $32.2 billion budget for 2011-13, which lawmakers must still approve before the special session ends Wednesday, also drops funding to reduce class sizes for kindergarten through fourth grade.

“This budget was probably the hardest to write in decades,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a statement Tuesday about the budget deal.

“The slow speed of the economic recovery is still having a significant impact on our state’s revenues and we didn’t have the prospect of any help from the federal government this year.” 

“We worked hard to protect our basic priorities,” Hunter continued. “Educating children is the paramount duty of the state and we do the best job we can. We maintain health care for children and the disabled, and we mitigate some of the cuts in higher education.”

Under the budget, certificated teachers and classified staff salaries are cut 1.9 percent, while administrative staff get a 3 percent cut like other state employees. 

Funding is dropped to reduce K-4 class sizes, meaning average class sizes for kindergarten through third grade will rise to 25.23 children, up from 23.11, and for fourth grade to 27, up from 26.15. High-poverty schools get a break if more than half of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

 “Within this budget, we address the greatest fiscal crisis of our time,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“More than anything, this budget reflects the struggles felt by families and businesses across the state,” he said. “We’re all in this together–and by working together, we can produce a budget that we can all stand behind in the end.”

Sen. Joseph Zarelli, who led budget talks for Senate Republicans, said the budget was “truly bipartisan.” He noted that the budget preserves but reduces the cost of the state Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline and consolidates back-office government functions.

The budget, which cuts broadly, protects lawmakers’ pay, The Associated Press notes in its budget coverage.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement Tuesday that lawmakers “made the difficult decisions needed to balance our state budget. They took the right approach by not relying on short-term fixes or budget gimmicks, and they met my requirement to leave a sizable ending fund balance to ensure we have the resources needed to carry us through our economic recovery.”

Gregoire acknowledged that under the new budget, “many families will lose critical state services that they’ve come to rely on.” And she called on communities “to reinforce the state’s safety net, and help ensure that our most vulnerable are cared for.”


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