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Spokane Public Schools blames union for budget shortfall

Spokane schools are facing a $5.6 million budget shortfall that administrators are blaming on the Spokane Education Association’s threatened strike earlier this month.

“We had a budget that was all ready to go,” Spokane Public Schools spokesman Kevin Morrison said. “Well, it was obviously not sufficient.”

The board, which planned to spend about $360 million this school year, is reviewing the budget line by line for cuts with minimal effect on students and staff, he said.

The district made the announcement Friday morning in a news release that surprised the teachers union.

Jenny Rose, president of the SEA, said the district has misplaced the blame.

“If you didn’t think you had the money, why did you agree to the tentative agreement?” Rose said. “That really makes me sad, because I know of no other school district that comes out of a bargain and then blames their union.”

Although the original budget included some pay increases for school staff, the money didn’t meet union demands, Superintendent Shelley Redinger said. During the negotiations with the union, the school board agreed to give more money in an effort to avoid a strike. That means money first allocated toward other programs has to instead be put toward compensation, Redinger said.

“There is no fat in our budget,” Morrison said. “Any fat that they see is obviously going to be going away with some of these line items.”

For example, the district currently pays for students’ SAT test fees. That’s something that could be cut, Morrison said. The price of school lunch could increase as well as the cost of before- and after-school care, Redinger said. Those increases could happen as early as November. Final budget decisions would be made around Oct. 14, she said.

“We love our employees,” Redinger said. “We want to pay them well, but again we have to make sure the lights are on.”

 

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