School board approves temporary change
The Spokane school board voted 4-1 Wednesday to temporarily raise class sizes by up to three students.
The move, when coupled with adjustments for enrollment declines, will result in the elimination of about 90 full-time teaching positions and a savings of $5 million. Spokane Public Schools administrators expect a budget gap for 2011-’12 between $9 million and $12 million, depending on what state lawmakers decide during the ongoing special session.
Jeff Bierman, the lone vote opposed to the plan, wanted to wait to decide on a plan of action until they had a better idea of state funding levels.
“They just shot themselves in the foot with the community,” said Jenni Rose, Spokane Education Association president.
The school board faced a May 15 deadline per union contract to notify certified staff – teachers, librarians and counselors – of potential cuts. Notices will go out next week, school officials said.
The board room was packed with about 175 people who were patient and well-behaved as they awaited board action near the end of its agenda. But many were clearly frustrated.
“I am concerned about the educational future of our children,” said Shadle Park High School teacher Hank Mendoza. “Increasing the class size will take away from our ability to be creative in the classroom.”
Teacher Mike Campbell said, “We have made sacrifices already.”
Class sizes are a bargained item, so the board can only temporarily suspend those limits when there’s a financial emergency. The current limits by grade level are 25 for K-3; 28 for grades 4-6; and 30 for grades 7-12. When the budget improves, the limits have to be restored.
In testimony leading up to the vote, teachers expressed concern about maintaining educational standards with more students in class.
“If class size does change, I think administrators’ expectations should change, too,” said sixth-grade teacher Lynn Carrick.
School officials said they feel the district is in a financial emergency situation because, in addition to $54 million in cuts in recent years, $8 million in federal stimulus money will drop off in 2011-’12 and the district took a midyear cut of $4 million.
“We are not adopting a budget tonight; this is one of the first steps we have to take,” said school board director Rocky Treppiedi. “This is only about the economic emergency that this district is facing.”
Class sizes could be increased across the board, and include Advanced Placement, English language learning, physical education and special education classes.
In addition to certified staff, cuts in administrative and support staff will also be necessary. The district expects to cut at least 150 positions.
“If the state’s budget comes in better than expected,” said Staci Vesneske, assistant superintendent, “we could call back more of the impacted personnel.”