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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Mead waits on school budget cuts until community weighs options

Riverpoint Academy students, Casey Lemon Jr., right and Ryder Fleming working on homework behind a basic 3d printer on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Spokane. Riverpoint Academy, a STEM school received a $23,860 grant from the Hagan Foundaton to buy an industrial 3-D printer. The Industrial 3-D printer will help the students tackle bigger and more ambitions projects. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Riverpoint Academy students, Casey Lemon Jr., right and Ryder Fleming working on homework behind a basic 3d printer on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Spokane. Riverpoint Academy, a STEM school received a $23,860 grant from the Hagan Foundaton to buy an industrial 3-D printer. The Industrial 3-D printer will help the students tackle bigger and more ambitions projects. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Facing a $12 million budget deficit and some difficult choices, Mead School District has hit the pause button.

The district’s board of directors had intended to finalize cuts this week, but board President Carmen Green said Tuesday that “we have more questions to ask of our district leadership and looking at all of the programs a little more thoroughly.”

The board will take more public comments on Wednesday night in a meeting that begins at 6 p.m. at Northwood Middle School.

A date to finalize cuts has not been set, Green said.

District administrators had proposed about $15 million in reductions but only about $12 million will be cut, allowing the public and board of directors to influence what is saved.

It’s unclear from the line items how many jobs are at risk, but according to its website, about 70% of the district’s budget is allocated to salaries and benefits.

“That would depend on the choice of reductions – it’s probably too early to say,” Green said.

However, nearby Spokane is considering cutting 325 positions to alleviate a $31 million deficit.

If the Mead layoff model is similar, that would mean about 125 lost jobs.

Like other districts, Mead is facing cuts after changes to the state’s new education funding model following the McCleary decision, which also led to significant pay raises last fall for teachers and other staff.

Districts in the Spokane area received millions more in state funding, but the Legislature has restricted the amount of money districts can receive from local levies.

Serving 10,500 students, Mead is the third-largest district in northeast Washington, behind Spokane and Central Valley. It’s also among the more affluent in the region and boasts a 92% high school graduation rate.

“I think that Mead has offered a Cadillac academic program that we have been able to deliver … but I think the Legislature has made it clear it wants it to be a Honda program,” Green said.

In its initial proposal last week, the board offered several dozen candidates for cuts.

The biggest would be a two-year closure of the award-winning Riverpoint Academy, a project-based STEM and entrepreneurial high school serving about 200 students.

The district would save about $1 million annually by closing Riverpoint, which opened in 2012.

Opposition to the proposed closure surfaced immediately.

“We understand that the district faces some difficult decisions, and that easy or painless solutions would have already been pursued if they were available,” Riverpoint Academy Parent-Teacher-Student Organization president Traci Logan said in a statement last week.

“Closing Riverpoint, however, is a step too far and in the wrong direction, not just for our current students, but for the district as a whole,” Logan said.

Supporters of the academy are expected to offer comments on Wednesday. After visiting the school on Monday, Green said she’s not surprised.

“It’s an awesome school and a special place that offers a unique way of learning for kids who aren’t the sit-at-your-desk kind of kid,” Green said.

“But it’s expensive when you’re unique like that,” Green said.

Other major proposed cuts include $2 million in staffing ratios throughout the district; about $1.2 million in paraeducator positions; $1 million in building budgets; $1 million in curriculum funds; $750,000 in special education positions; $600,000 in social workers; and $560,000 in seasonal custodians.

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