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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Schools face budget ax again

For the fourth straight year, Spokane Public Schools must trim several million dollars from its budget due to rising costs and shrinking enrollment.

Spokane County’s largest school district is projecting a need to cut $5.3 million from next year’s budget. That’s about 2 percent of the district’s nearly $260 million budget. Overall, the state provides more than 65 percent of the district’s funding. The rest is supplied by federal funding and other elements like the levy.

This past week, Spokane Public Schools presented the budget picture to board members during a work session.

“We’re at the very beginning of the budget process,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent of school support services.

Department budget reviews begin April 14. On April 26 and May 3, officials will hold public forums that will reveal possible areas of cuts.

At this point, the district doesn’t know what programs or staffing will be considered for cuts, Anderson said.

On May 9, a district Citizens Advisory Committee will be presented with potential program cuts. Superintendent Brian Benzel will present his preliminary recommended budget June 22. The school board’s expected to adopt the budget Aug. 10.

Most of the district’s $260 million budget comes from the state and the state is wrestling with an estimated $2 billion budget gap, Anderson said.

If people want to offer input in the process at this early stage, Anderson suggested citizens contact their legislators, who collectively decide how much funding education receives.

“The folks we have elected have not been inclined to increase taxes,” Anderson said.

What can be confusing is that the district is projected to receive $8.5 million more than last year for the 2005-2006 budget, Anderson said. The trouble is that expenses increased $13.8 million, which includes $11 million in additional costs for salary and benefit increases, Anderson said.

On top of expected state-funding shortfalls, Spokane Public Schools’ student enrollment is expected to decline another 350 students, which is expected to cost the district $1.6 million in funds based on full-time equivalent students. The average student full-time enrollment for the 2004-2005 school year is 29,300. By the 2007-2008 school year, that number is projected to be around 28,300.

In the previous three years, the district has cut its budget by almost $21 million, including $6 million in 2002-2003, $9.1 million in 2003-2004 and $5.7 million this current school year.

The bulk of those cuts have been in reducing teaching staff, Anderson said.

Last year, the average number of students each teacher was assigned crept up from 22 to 23 for elementary, 26 to 27 for middle school and 27 to 28 for high school.

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