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SPS won’t increase class sizes or cut special ed assistants

Wed., June 22, 2011, 8:59 p.m.

Still must find a way to make up $1 million shortfall

Spokane Public Schools’ officials agreed to a 2011-12 preliminary budget Wednesday that does not increase any class sizes, but there’s still work to be done.

About $1 million remains to be cut to bridge the $13.1 million deficit.

Increasing high school class sizes or cutting 59 instructional assistants in special education resource rooms – both of which would save about $1 million – were the two main items remaining under consideration at the start of Wednesday’s board meeting.

But after passionate testimony from parents, teachers and instructional assistants, school officials decided to consider different ways to make the final $1 million trim.

“We need to think of our kids,” said Kim Gortsema, a resource room teacher. “We’re cutting people they need in order to learn.”

Rocky Treppiedi, a Spokane school board director, said cutting those instructional assistants affects the “most vulnerable” students.

“I don’t see the educational value in taking a step like this,” he said

Superintendent Nancy Stowell added: “We’ll keep looking for money.”

The school board has until August to make a final decision on the district budget. Some instructional assistants could be eliminated, but not at the 60 percent level currently proposed, officials said.

At the onset of the budgeting process, board members voted to temporarily increase class sizes in K-12 to help fill an anticipated multi-million deficit. But board members asked the administration to look elsewhere to find the money before putting that decision in motion.

One-time savings of $5.4 million, reassessing district programs, scheduling adjustments, salary reductions, and cuts in personnel, including instructional support, made up the bulk of the trims.

The central office was “slashed,” Stowell said. Reduction to administrative pay totals more than the state’s 3 percent cut in funding. 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.

A 1.9 percent cut to instructional certified staff salaries, which was the same percentage reduction by the state, saves nearly $2 million. Principals and assistant principals also agreed to a 3 percent pay cut.

Stowell said the proposed budget, for the most part, “protects classroom resources in spite of state and federal cuts.”

Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president, told the board she’s aware of the state’s reductions, but reminded the board “the state is not telling you to spend half-million dollars on a math resolution … develop a data warehouse for another half-million dollars. That is your choice.”

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