June 26, 2013 in City

Spokane schools plan for budget boost from state

By The Spokesman-Review
 

More teachers, more counselors, more technology, more security and more kindergarten are all part of Spokane Public Schools’ 2013-14 preliminary budget to be presented tonight at the school board’s regular meeting.

The additions are due mostly to new money expected from the state – an estimated $14.9 million in revenue – much of which will be spent on teachers, counselors and specialists. About $3.9 million of it will pay for full-day kindergarten, which is being implemented at all of the district’s elementary schools, district officials said.

“This is our biggest infusion in elementary education that we’ve had in many years, and much of that is due to the board’s priority to start them early and keep them engaged – early intervention so the kids don’t get behind,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent.

The preliminary budget is based on the most conservative amount of revenue expected from the state, which is still ironing out the details of its budget. When the state budget passes, the only difference for the Spokane district would likely be to add more items to its budget. The school board has until August to adopt a final budget.

“This funds our biggest priorities,” Anderson said.

The district’s estimated budget is $324.5 million – including the new money from the state plus a one-time savings of $6.7 million from last year’s budget by the district. The savings include $1.5 million set aside for Common Core curriculum to be purchased this year; less money spent on snow removal and utilities during a mild winter; and cuts in administration.

The budget “was heavily weighted toward the classroom,” said Bob Douthitt, school board president. “I’m happiest that we can get full-day kindergarten implemented.”

The school board and the district took a new approach to budgeting while planning for 2013-14.

The process began in October and included input from staff and administration.

Board members identified their priorities early, and district officials took time to drill down in each expenditure category in order to determine where all the dollars were being spent.

“It’s more strategic, broader-based and more accurate,” Douthitt said.

A few of the budget’s highlights:

• More than 64 positions will be added to the elementary schools, including about 25 kindergarten teachers. All elementary schools will have a counselor; four more early intervention teachers will help students with reading and math; behavior intervention specialists and speech language pathologists will also be hired.

• Nursing staff will be hired so each elementary school will have a nurse on hand one day per week.

• Half-time teacher positions will be added to middle schools to increase opportunities for at-risk students as well as gifted seventh- and eighth-graders.

This means a class that may have been canceled due to low enrollment would be able to go forward.

• Busing will be provided to the Odyssey Program for gifted students throughout the district.

• More computers will be purchased to ensure three per elementary school classroom as required by Common Core.

• More teachers will be hired to reduce class sizes at all levels.

• Locks will be installed on classroom doors so teachers can lock the doors from the inside.

• Security staff will be increased by three positions.

“It’s less stressful in the sense that there are not going to be tragic stories where people are going to lose their jobs,” Douthitt said. “It’s easier this year, but it’s still a matter of balancing among choices.”


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