School budget woes are far from over

By Dr. Marci Larsen, Superintendent | May 02, 2012

The 2012 session of the state legislature has ended and, as the lawmakers adopted changes to the state’s 2011-13 biennial budget, they made no additional cuts in funding for public education. We are happy for that. It’s certainly better news for the children in our community than what has been the case recently.

I’m concerned, however, that people will now believe that our budget worries are over. I’m already hearing comments as though budget cuts are a thing of the past and that everything should be rosy in the public schools.

But the truth is, while this year’s news may be better than it has been, money still remains a major issue in education.

Let’s review what we’ve been through since 2009:

Faced with enormous budget shortfalls during the past three years, the state Legislature has repeatedly cut its funding for public education. Because about two-thirds of our operating budget is provided by the state of Washington, the cuts in the state budget have hit our budget very hard.

In order to make ends meet, we have had to cut our operating budget by about $8 million since 2009 and have also had to dip into our fund balance.

Our goal during this period of budget cutting has been to protect the activities in classrooms as much as we possibly could and to maintain class sizes. We have been largely successful in that effort.

A big portion of our cuts were made in areas that do not directly impact the classroom, such as administration and support programs and facilities costs. Yet, the magnitude of the cuts were such that it became impossible to avoid impacting programs and activities that are important to parents and students.

Over the past few years, we were forced to cut or reduce funding for a number of valuable programs such as extended-day educational programs for struggling students, professional development to improve the skills of our teachers, elementary support teacher positions, English Language Learner teachers, drug and alcohol counselors, staffing for elementary libraries and seventh-grade sports.

While the state made no more additional cuts in funding for public education this year, it also did not restore any of the funding that we have lost during the past three years.

Consequently, we must still do without some of these valuable programs. What’s more, many of our expenses are continuing to increase.

For example, you’ve no doubt felt the pinch recently when you have filled up the gas tank on your car. Imagine the impact of filling the fuel tanks of more than 100 school buses that consume about 154,000 gallons of fuel each year.

We also have collective bargaining contracts with our employees that obligate us to provide pay increases next year.

While it would be great if funding wasn’t an issue, that time has not yet come. Our budget worries are not over.

As a result, as we develop our operating budget for the 2012-13 school year, we are still facing the challenge of providing students an excellent education with limited resources.

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