May 17, 2010 in City

Schools’ budget reality strikes hard

No option is off the table as districts struggle to overcome deficits in the coming year
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

Kellogg High School junior Lacey Hojem watches the action during a 3A District I-II softball game against Orofino at Timberlake High School in Spirit Lake on Friday. The Kellogg Joint School District, which has declared a financial emergency, will close its alternative school, implement layoffs of staff and faculty, and eliminate softball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross-country and cheerleading.
(Full-size photo)

Consecutive years of belt-tightening are leaving Inland Northwest school districts with fewer notches available to further cinch up their spending.

Temporary federal funds for education in the 2009-’11 biennium helped prevent the most drastic cuts during the current school year, but continued weakness in the economy has forced state officials to further slash budgets for 2010-’11.

Nothing will go untouched, school officials throughout the region say: There are plans to increase school fees or implement new ones; eliminate or reduce athletic programs; leave district positions vacant or hand out pink slips; and, in Idaho, reduce salaries and benefits.

Kellogg hit especially hard

At least 20 school districts out of Idaho’s 115 have declared financial emergencies, including Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Kellogg.

The declaration means districts can reopen wage and benefit negotiations with the employee unions.

“There will be a reduction in salary and benefits for nearly everybody, which is the main way we are going to be able to reduce the budget gap,” said Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane.

Additionally, the Kellogg Joint School District will lay off staff and faculty, close the alternative high school, and eliminate softball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross-country and cheerleading at the high school.

Several middle school sports also are being eliminated, as well as all-day kindergarten.

So far, other districts have been able to avoid eliminating sports and extracurricular activities or closing student facilities.

Kellogg’s cutbacks are a result of a drop in state funding as well as a failed supplemental levy in March.

“People kept saying they didn’t want a tax increase,” said Terry Rinaldi, the district’s business manager.

The situation would have been even worse had voters not approved a replacement levy for the current levy on April 27, officials said.

District officials devised cuts totaling about $778,000 from an overall $17 million budget by using results from a community survey. Another $49,615 still needs to be trimmed.

“We’ve had to cut the sports and extracurricular activities, and that’s hard for the students. For some it keeps them in school and their grades up,” Rinaldi said. “The thing that upset me the most was the kindergarten stuff. It was such a plus for our students.”

Everything reduced in Post Falls

After cutting $1.2 million this school year, Post Falls is faced with reducing its budget by another $2.1 million in 2010-’11.

The Idaho district has been able to escape major cuts, compared with its neighboring districts, because of steady growth during the last 17 years. But the most recent state deficit hit hard.

“No department, no program will go untouched,” said Keane, the superintendent. “There will be reductions across the board.

“No programs will be completely eliminated, but nearly everything will be reduced,” he said, referring to sports and extracurricular activities.

“We believe we will be able to salvage jobs,” Keane said.

The district avoided layoffs in 2009-’10, but eight positions were allowed to go dark.

New fees eyed in CdA

In the Coeur d’Alene School District, there’s less money for materials, supplies and equipment. Transportation and Associated Student Body fees will go up, and athletes will compete in fewer games. There will be no state funding for school field trips.

Superintendent Hazel Bauman said all the changes should cut $4.8 million next school year.

So far, the district is not considering layoffs, but positions will be left vacant.

“We reduced 19 teachers last year, and this year it will be another 10,” Bauman said. Three administrator positions and three support staff positions will also be cut.

To regain some money, the district plans to charge high school students a one-time locker fee of $10. No determination had been made yet on how much ASB and transportation fees will go up.

“We’re trying to raise them slightly so as not to burden any families, but just regain some revenue,” Bauman said.

Mead ponders layoffs

Mead School District expects to hand out pink slips to as many as 25 classified employees – classroom aids and clerical staff – this summer, said Wayne Leonard, executive director of business services. The district has been able to avoid layoffs up until now. Numbers will be finalized after the district sees how many classified staff retire or resign.

“When we started this whole budget-cutting process three years ago, our goal was not to lay people off,” Leonard said. Mead needs to trim $441,000 in classified staff and $180,000 in certified staff, including teachers. Overall, the district expects to cut $1.2 million.

“This year, we have 35 fewer teaching positions than we did three years ago,” Leonard said. “We could lose another four or five teaching positions through attrition.”

The district is also talking about instituting a participation fee for sports.

“We’ve resisted that for years, but now it’s either eliminating the program or charging a fee,” Leonard said. “We are still trying to figure out what that fee will look like, and trying to make it an annual fee. I think our goal is to raise about $150,000.

Mead is also considering cutting freshman teams or “C squads,” said Leonard, adding he needs to cut $287,000 from sports and $60,000 from extracurricular activities.

Associated Student Body card fees could go up, as could lunch prices.

The proposed cuts are not final, Leonard said. The district has until summer to make decisions.

Other districts consider options

Meanwhile, Spokane Public Schools is still figuring out how to bridge a $5.9 million budget gap.

Preliminary proposed cuts include reduced travel by district employees and not filling open positions in various departments, including maintenance.

Central Valley School District had to trim about $2 million from its budget. The cuts included eliminating 20 teaching positions that had previously been funded by the state to keep class sizes down. No one was laid off, however; the downsizing was accomplished through retirements and resignations.

The district also plans on charging a participation fee for sports to gain $125,000 in revenue, but the amount has not been set.

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