Seemingly as controversial and inevitable as Barry Bonds’ home-run record breaker the previous night, Spokane’s school board unanimously approved its 2007-08 budget Wednesday evening amid a slew of murmurs and groans.
The new budget slices spending by $10.8 million and includes the highly contested closure of Pratt Elementary School, the layoff of some employees in the custodial staff and central office, and the reduction of extracurricular activities in elementary schools. Most of the 25 visitors who attended the meeting, however, came to protest the reduction of librarians to part-time positions in 10 elementary schools.
But little of this was new. The Pratt decision was made in April, and the board already brought up the librarian proposal in a June meeting.
“We don’t have much of a choice at all,” school board member Rocky Treppiedi said about budget discussions that began in an emptier board meeting last August. “We studied it and studied it and studied it. No one stepped forward to say what an alternative would be,” he said about the decision to cut librarians from full to part time. “It was a choice professionals also supported.”
Expenditures have risen with declining enrollment, a loss of about 2,000 students in the past seven years. Mark Anderson, the associate superintendent for school support services, predicts a further decline of about 300 students in the next year and said even increases in state funding have required more spending by the school district, due to the strings attached on the state money. Spokane Public Schools is engaged in a lawsuit against the state Legislature about some of these mandates that require districts to spend extra money without full compensation.
Although the school district has a $293 million budget, Anderson said, the imbalance between revenue and spending makes the cuts necessary.
“We are having to make tough choices like any family that would have to watch their expenses,” he said.
Parent Stephen Latoszek spoke for the small chorus present who felt these were the wrong choices to make.
“I think we are inside the schoolhouse door, and it’s troublesome to see librarians on the chopping block,” said Latoszek, who was also a vocal proponent for keeping Pratt open.
“We can only Google so much, and librarians are essential to our youth, especially when the teachers don’t have time,” he said.
Fewer full-time librarians might not have such a detrimental effect as some think, countered school board member Barbara Richardson.
She pointed out that a number of schools have part-time librarians and continue to thrive.
“It’s not like we are gutting librarian funding,” she said.
“It will be staffed like music or art teachers, and it doesn’t mean that all of the libraries will be closed.”
Jennifer Maydole, Washington Library Media Association liaison, trekked from Cashmere to say that it would. “The $300,000 cut (will) have an economic impact that is not a positive one,” she said.
Yet, after a year of poring over possible options, the board was resolute and voted without hesitation.
“It’s a budget we can live with,” said school board President Christie Querna.
“In a perfect world we would not be making these cuts, but it isn’t.”