August 12, 2009 in City

Spokane schools budget required some trimming

By The Spokesman-Review
J. Bart Rayniak photo

Devony Audet says she graduated from Havermale High School with honors last June largely because of the day care program that cared for her son Jeremiah while she was in class.
(Full-size photo)

Federal money helped Spokane Public Schools escape record teacher layoffs and programs cuts, school officials said. But that alone didn’t cut it.

To cover the remaining gaps, the district and the school board worked to trim from multiple areas they hoped would have the smallest effect on classrooms. Still, positions were left vacant and some programs were cut.

The Spokane School Board on Wednesday approved the 2009-10 budget of $306.2 million – nearly 1 percent less than 2008-09 budget.

One casualty is the day care at Havermale High School used by teen parents and some staff. Closing it saved about $100,000.

Devony Audet, 19, says she couldn’t have earned her high school diploma without care for her son, now 2. She graduated with honors in June.

“I’m friends with girls who are still using it, and they aren’t sure if they will be able to continue their education” in the fall, said Audet, who wants to be a nurse. “I have a lot of family support, but no one who was available to take care of my son. There are girls who don’t even have the family support. It’s a big deal in so many ways.”

With fewer than five students enrolled in the program, officials felt it was a reasonable cut to make.

The service could return in winter, district officials said.

Community Colleges of Spokane has applied for a federal Early Head Start grant to serve teen parents in Spokane Public Schools and the West Valley School District. Grants should be awarded in October.

Since fall 2008, the school board and administrators have been hammering out the 2009-10 budget.

“We used to start a couple months before the end of the school year, now it’s a yearlong project,” said Rocky Treppiedi, school board president, in a previous interview.

Neil Sullivan, the district’s executive director of finance, said, “This was the most frustrating budget we’ve ever put together. The rules for using the federal money were constantly changing.” Sometimes hourly, he added.

From the 2008-09 budget to the current one, state funds dropped by $27 million. The federal funding added $21 million, but some of that money had to be spread out over two years, and certain amounts were directed to specific areas.

“The state stabilization money (from the federal government) was specifically for things the state could not fund, so the state funding went away, but they backfilled it with the federal money,” Sullivan said. Some of the federal money was designated for special education and schools with more than 40 percent of students below the poverty level.

Because of uncertainty with the federal funds, the district sent layoff notices to 103 teachers, counselors and librarians. All who had received notifications were brought back, officials said.

In addition to the child care program, other reductions include: a two-day pay cut for administrators ($100,000); travel, catering and cell phone costs ($260,000); and fuel costs ($400,000).

The largest expense in the district is payroll, which includes about 5,000 certified and classified staff. Leaving vacant 42 teaching positions – 17 elementary, 12.7 middle school and 12.4 high school – saved $2.5 million. A reduction in clerical support staff saved $210,000.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Nancy Stowell told the board, “I appreciate that you took the time to ask questions along the way and make recommendations.”

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