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Spokane Public Schools avoids further cuts

Spokane Public Schools’ budget situation for the 2012-’13 school year is better than it has been in almost a decade, meaning there will be no layoff notices or agonizing decisions about which programs to cut.

On the contrary, nearly 60 instructional assistants will be hired back, three more elementary early intervention teachers will be brought on board and several classroom positions, including a special education teacher and a bilingual specialist, will also be added to the payroll.

“This year, we were certainly relieved that the state decided not to cut more money,” Superintendent Nancy Stowell said. “I think that sends a positive message for the community. I think the Legislature listened. … They realized they just couldn’t continue to cut K-12 funding.”

The district isn’t restoring the $45 million-plus slashed since 2002. But with no state-level cuts to K-12 funding and some district-level savings, the state’s second-largest school district will be able to maintain the status quo and then some.

The preliminary budget for 2012-’13 is $317 million, which includes $8.9 million left over from last year’s budget.

One of the biggest areas of those savings came from “being pretty conservative in filling vacancies,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent. “In some cases we haven’t filled them at all, and sometimes when we have, they’ve been a first-year hire or a substitute employee.”

Also, around $3 million was set aside for emergencies such as extra snowplowing, said Linda McDermott, executive director for finance. “The district used less than $500,000 of the money.”

School officials estimate about $4.8 million of the savings is in one-time funds, so there’s been some debate among the administration and school board about the best way to spend it.

The district will set aside $2.5 million to buy new teaching materials to comply with the national “Common Core” curriculum, including math, high school civics, U.S. government, physics, Advanced Placement biology and books for band and strings.

About $700,000 is proposed for equipment such as work trucks and lunch tables.

But the largest use of one-time funds is to prevent levying the state’s 1.9 percent salary reduction for all teachers and staff next school year – about $3.6 million, Anderson said.

About $1.6 million of the savings is considered to be ongoing funds.

A good chunk of that money will be used to add two more Odyssey classes – a challenging, more rigorous academic program designed to meet the special needs of gifted, highly capable students.

The addition accommodates a waiting list of students, Anderson said.

District officials were pleased with the ease of developing this year’s budget.

“There weren’t any big new cuts to deal with,” Anderson said. “It’s a combination of no significant cuts from the state, continuing our spend thrift, and not restoring most items that were cut last year.”

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