More money from the state could reduce costs for parents and provide a more balanced public education in Spokane.
Line items under consideration for the 2014-15 Spokane Public Schools budget: eliminating fees for courses such as auto shop, culinary classes, construction technology and computer programming; expanding elementary school extracurricular activities, reducing elementary school classroom supply lists and continuing an extended school day at Rogers High School.
“We are trying to be very intentional with the money we are receiving from the state and make sure it goes to students and the families,” said Superintendent Shelley Redinger. “We want it to pay for materials and supplies that families have had to pay for in the past.”
District administration and elected officials have spent several months prioritizing budget items while considering wish lists from teachers and staff. The superintendent’s proposed budget will be presented at the school board meeting on June 24. Board members have until August to make it official.
Additional state money flowing into districts is from the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, which forced Washington lawmakers to increase funding for K-12 education. The state is releasing more money each year until it reaches required funding levels by 2017-18.
For 2014-15, the district received an additional $11.5 million in state funding, which has been spent in a variety of areas.
At the elementary school level, the district is adding about 35 teachers to reduce kindergarten and first-grade class sizes to around 20 students, said Linda McDermott, chief financial officer. By 2018, the state’s goal will be 17 students in K-3 classes.
K-6 principals also took a serious look at elementary school supply lists in an effort to narrow them down.
“The school board had heard from parents that school supply lists were getting too expensive,” said Julia Lockwood, Browne Elementary School principal.
Items on those lists, such as baby wipes and hand sanitizer, were beyond classroom needs, she said. Other items were exaggerated: 10 glue sticks instead of three, for example.
“We decided to continue the lists, but that parents shouldn’t be spending more than $25 to $35,” Lockwood said. “What we are not going to do is publish all these different lists; that’s too hard on families. We are working on a mainstreamed list for all schools.”
District officials also wanted to add back items that had been chipped away due to cuts over the past decade, said Jeff Bierman, school board president.
“For several years, the board has been concerned about not offering enough extracurricular activities in the elementary school. This is an area that took a big hit during the years when the budget was trimmed over and over,” Bierman said. “We are excited to be doing things besides adding math and language arts to elementary school.”
Officials want to add fifth- and sixth-grade basketball. Teams within the district would play each other. There are also plans to add basketball for third- and fourth-graders for intramural play. Robotics leagues also would be added to all the schools. The enhanced elementary school extracurricular plan would cost $305,000.
“The goal is to have both athletic and academic opportunities,” McDermott said.
Elementary schools and middle schools will receive all new math materials – some of the books in use date to the late 1990s.
At the high school level, officials expect to use $220,000 to continue Rogers’ extended school day.
“There’s been a lot of effort in having students spend more time with teachers,” Bierman said. “The experience they’ve had at Rogers has been really positive. Students are taking more classes, harder classes.”
District officials want to remove barriers for those who want to take elective courses that could propel them to a postsecondary education by eliminating many fees for those courses. Removing the fees would cost the district $110,000.
“If these classes are associated with the technical part of education they are interested in, we want to encourage that,” Bierman said. “Rather than having our students pay those fees, the district is going to pay those fees.”
Fees for classes such as auto shop, jewelry making, culinary arts and dental careers usually range between $10 and $40.
“We shouldn’t be penalizing students for taking classes where they have areas of aptitude,” Redinger said.