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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools has a lot of numbers to crunch for 2019 budget as beginning of classes nears

In this April 2019 photo, students from North Central High School rally in support of Spokane Public Schools teachers who were issued layoffs notices. The district is now considering whether to bring back some of those laid off after the district’s board of directors voted to consider spending additional reserve funds in the budget earlier this summer. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s crunch time at Spokane Public Schools.

Time is running short for the district’s board of directors, which must crunch a lot of numbers as it weighs how to spend up to $3.6 million in reserve money and restore some positions.

Little was decided during a work session Wednesday night, except to hold another session next week with an eye toward making a final decision at the next scheduled board meeting on Aug. 14.

By law, the board must approve a budget by Aug. 30.

The board has several options. Those were clarified Wednesday night by Linda McDermott, the district’s chief financial officer. District staff identified several main areas of need, including reduction of combination classes, lowering class sizes from grades 4 through 12 and restoring some custodial staff.

Depending on what the board decides, several dozen teachers could be recalled and some custodians retained.

“Given the situation that we’re in, we’ve asked where is the potential capacity for allocation adjustments,” McDermott told the board before the presentation.

Two weeks after approving an additional $3.6 million – drawing the district’s reserves down to about 5% of an expected $460 million budget – the board considered its next move as McDermott showed the options on a large screen.

At the top of the list was a line item of up about $1,017,000 to reduce the number of combination classes, which is expected to hit 60 this fall.

“Combo classes are universally perceived as a lesser learning experience,” said Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer.

For that $1 million, the district would add 10 classrooms in selected buildings.

Which buildings? That depends, as projected attendance for this fall is still a moving target. Also, some schools might not have the space.

The board also has the option to add fewer or more classrooms.

It’s the same story with class sizes at all grade levels. “High-pressure areas,” the district calls them, are classes that could reach or exceed 30 students at some schools.

For example, an elementary school that expects to enroll 90 fourth-graders would be a prime candidate for an additional teacher, thereby reducing class size to the low 20s.

However, each full-time equivalent teacher would cost about $90,000 per year for salary and benefits.

Which buildings would receive additional help? That probably won’t be known until school begins and those high-pressure areas are identified. At that point the district could bring some teachers back from the recall list.

“In most cases they wouldn’t be returning people to their old positions,” said Katy Henry, President of the Spokane Education Association, which represents certificated and classified staff.

However, Henry was encouraged by the possibility of two dozen or more teachers returning to the fold.

“We want to be getting back as many staff as we can,” Henry said.

Based on district staff recommendations, it appears likely that the board will opt to lay off fewer custodians. Their contracts don’t expire until Aug. 31.

McDermott estimated that each restored full-time equivalent custodial job would cost about $80,000 annually.

Superintendent Shelley Redinger promised the board would “work up some models” on custodians and other areas.

“Let us know what questions you have so we can ask the right people,” Redinger told the board.

Also on the wish list was $245,000 for after-school activities in the wake of a decision to end the school day 75 minutes every Friday.

The staff also recommended restoring $300,000 in building budgets, primarily for classroom materials.

Bottom line: The board has a plethora of choices. Assuming it opts to spend $545,000 for classroom materials and after-school Fridays, it would still have about $3 million to rehire or retain staff.

Should it choose to keep 10 more custodians (for $800,000), that would leave enough to add 10 classroom teachers and reduce combo classes (for $1,017,000) and bring back up to 13 teachers ($1.17 million) to address “high-pressure areas.”

Of course, the board could alter those numbers.

“It’s a full feast of options,” board member Brian Newberry said.

And a lot of number-crunching.