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More jobs would be saved under Spokane Public Schools budget revision discussed Wednesday night

Aug. 7, 2019 Updated Wed., Aug. 7, 2019 at 10:36 p.m.

Up to 16 teachers could be rehired and seven custodians would keep their jobs under a budget revision discussed Wednesday night by the Spokane Public Schools board of directors.

Continuing discussions from the previous week, the board appeared ready to move ahead with a plan to spend $2.9 million from its reserves.

That money would fund 10 full-time equivalent teachers to reduce the number of combination classrooms in elementary schools; alleviate overcrowding at a handful of selected schools; restore seven custodial positions; fund afterschool activities to compensate for early elementary school dismissal on Fridays; and restore building budgets to last year’s levels.

“I think we’ve worked to make things better for our kids,” board member Brian Newberry said during Wednesday’s work session.

The board is expected to make a final decision on the projected $460 million budget at its next meeting on Wednesday. It has until Aug. 30 to make a final decision.

The biggest line item, $1.417 million, would reduce the number of combination classes – currently projected at about 60 districtwide – to less than half that number.

It also would add 10 FTEs, positions that would be from the recall list created after layoff notices went out last spring to hundreds of employees.

The proposal also gives the district the flexibility to add up to six FTEs to address “high-pressure areas” – that is classrooms exceeding 30 students.

But officials won’t be able to identify those classrooms until school begins on Aug. 29.

The district and the board also kept an eye on the future.

The board had the option to spend up to $4.5 million without its reserve funds falling below the recommended 5% of the $460 million.

However, that would have left the district vulnerable next year, should revenues decrease.

Spending less than the $4.5 million would offer a cushion, said Associate Superintendent Linda McDermott, the district’s chief financial officer.

McDermott began her presentation with a review of the obstacles to maintaining a full elementary school day on Fridays.

Those included reassignments and adjustments to meet new staffing levels, with up to 140 employees being affected.

Following a weeklong study by staff, the district concluded that “at the end of the day we are not recommending that we try to restore the elementary school day on Fridays,” McDermott said.

The meeting continued with discussion of proposed restorations, for which the district recommended using $2.9 million without drawing reserves below the standard 5% of the budget.

The district offered several reasons for restoring seven itinerant custodial positions, meaning custodians who service buildings districtwide.

The biggest reason was the need for stability. Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson pointed out that most of the itinerant custodians have high seniority, meaning that should their positions be eliminated, they would have the option to bump other custodians.

“There is a potential for disrupting every school in the district,” Anderson said.

Unlike many other district employees, custodians are still under contract. Their contract expires Aug. 31.

Newberry inquired about keeping even more custodians, but Anderson said that it would require anther 12 custodians – at a cost of almost $1 million – to gain the most efficiency.

That apparently won’t happen this year, but Newberry urged next year’s board to restore as many custodians as possible.

“Otherwise, we’re eating our seed corn,” Newberry said.

The district also recommended spending $230,075 for afterschool activities to accommodate the early dismissal of elementary students on Fridays. The funds would cover staffing, snacks and supplies for an estimated average participation of 50% of students districtwide.

For students who wish to leave early, the district will add an early bus run at 1:45 p.m. That won’t be a problem, McDermott said, because those buses would have 45 minutes to finish those routes and move on to pick up high school students by 2:30 p.m.

Last week, the district recommended spending $300,000 to partially restore building budgets; that figure now stands at $553,000, following a recommendation for full restoration.

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