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Spokane Public Schools OKs budget

Spokane Public Schools adopted its 2011-’12 budget Wednesday, but reaching the finish line was a challenge, as district officials tried to offset a $13.1 million shortfall.

“We certainly have experience reducing our budget,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent. But this has been the “toughest budget year, next to the year we had to close an elementary school.”

The district ended up in a better place than when the budget process began in late April: an “unprecedented” 238 teachers, counselors and librarians received pink slips in May; additionally, officials cut 59 instructional assistant positions and the school board approved raising class sizes by up to three students.

The public outcry was loud not only at two community forums, but also via emails, phone calls and board meetings.

The budget the board unanimously approved Wednesday uses $5.1 million in one-time savings and finds $6.3 million in trims outside the classroom. The district administration put together a $313.3 million budget – $4.3 million less than 2010-’11 – that preserved class size and kept programs in place.

All 238 certified employees were recalled. But in a last-minute decision, the board opted Wednesday to refill 25 of the 59 instructional assistants’ positions and hire eight half-time elementary intervention teachers. The new teachers will evaluate students and coordinate with the student’s general education teachers in an effort to keep them out of the special education program.

In order to plug the $13.1 million revenue gap, district officials turned to salaries, administration and areas that would affect students as little as possible.

The central administration took a pay cut that totals more than the state’s 3 percent cut in allocation for their pay. Additionally, salaries were frozen, 13.5 administrators were eliminated, the mentor teacher program was suspended and exempt professional salaries were frozen, for a total savings of $1.3 million.

Principals and assistant principals also took a pay cut for a $398,000 savings.

Certified staff pay was cut 1.9 percent, the same amount cut from the state’s allocation, for a savings of $1.9 million.

Suspending some curriculum, adjusting elementary school library schedules to reduce staffing by 10 librarians and eliminating instructional coaches made up the bulk of the other cuts.

“This has been a particularly difficult budget year,” said Jeff Bierman, school board vice president. “We had to look at every nook and cranny.”

He added, “But I just want everyone to keep in mind, as difficult as this year has been, it’s going to be worse next year.”

Director Rocco Treppiedi thanked the board, administration and community for all the work and input on the budget. “It’s not the budget we’d prefer, but it’s the one we have to accept given the situation.”