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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Spokane Public Schools to consider budget that would eliminate librarians, expand early-release Fridays for elementary students

UPDATED: Fri., July 19, 2019, 1:54 p.m.

Students from North Central High School rally in support of Spokane Public Schools teachers who were issued layoffs notices this spring in this April 2019 photo. The Spokane Public Schools board will meet Wednesday to consider a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that wouldn’t require new taxes and would see fewer-than-expected layoffs as a result of budget cuts. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Students from North Central High School rally in support of Spokane Public Schools teachers who were issued layoffs notices this spring in this April 2019 photo. The Spokane Public Schools board will meet Wednesday to consider a budget for the 2019-2020 school year that wouldn’t require new taxes and would see fewer-than-expected layoffs as a result of budget cuts. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Public Schools board members will consider Wednesday a budget for the next school year that avoids asking voters for more money while providing an early release every Friday for the district’s elementary students.

The $459 million budget is being considered the summer after the district warned of cuts and staff reductions it says are a consequence of state legislators changing the formula for how schools are funded in Washington. The district’s budget problems were made more difficult last year when the union representing Spokane’s teachers and other employees won salary increases averaging 13.2%.

A majority of the proposed budget, $350 million, will come from the state, with the rest being covered by a combination of local and federal dollars. The proposal the board will vote on increases the amount that will be spent in the classroom while reducing funding for support services, including the elimination of librarian positions and assigning those tasks to teachers instead.

The budget also assumes an early release schedule for each of the district’s 34 elementary schools every Friday throughout the school year. That will provide families more consistency in the district’s schedule than last school year, which featured 12 early release Fridays on a staggered schedule that some parents found confusing, said Brian Coddington, spokesman for Spokane Public Schools.

“The staff, it doesn’t impact their day,” Coddington said. “They’ll continue through the end of the usual workweek, while for families it adds consistency to the schedule so they can plan and know exactly what’s happening.”

The district still is working out the transportation schedule for Fridays, given that elementary students will be released early and those at middle and high schools will be released at the usual time. Busing will be provided at the end of the school day for all students, Coddington said.

Staff reductions, originally projected to affect more than 300 district employees this spring, will now be limited to about 110 staff members, after the state Legislature added some additional funds in their biennial budget. The district has issued layoff notices to 37 certificated teachers as of Friday, Coddington said, and that number may continue to go down as teachers retire or accept other offers throughout the rest of the summer. The anticipated number of support staff without teaching certificates that will be let go sits at 74.

School officials say the budget, which includes an operating surplus of a little less than $1 million, was drafted based on the input of more than 1,000 respondents to public hearings and surveys this spring, after the initial layoffs were announced. The budget maintains the same level of nursing staff at the district’s buildings for the 2019-2020 school year, and the administration is prioritizing maintaining state-mandated class sizes in kindergarten through third grade that may lead to some larger class sizes for students in higher grade levels.

The district plans to spend about $4.5 million less next year on what it deems “other support activities,” including maintenance and custodial work, according to the budget documents.

While the budget is balanced for the 2019-2020 school year, Linda McDermott, associate superintendent in charge of school services, warned board members last month that future projections showed expenses outpacing revenues if there’s no change in the state funding structure or planned spending by the district.

“While we got through this year, and we have a budget that is essentially balanced, we’ve kind of got to keep our attention to our spending patterns and assuring that we continue to look at our budget, scrutinize our budget, knowing that we cannot spend in excess of our resources,” McDermott said.

Districts are now required to provide four-year financial outlooks, Coddington said. Projections years in the future are subject to change.

If the board adopts the budget presented by the district at its public meeting Wednesday, there will be no need to approach voters for an additional levy. Board members could delay the vote to consider adding back in programs and staffing proposed to be eliminated, but there’s little wiggle room to cover those costs within the existing budget, Coddington said.

“If there’s things in their discussion – they want to add back some things, make some additions to the budget – we’ll either have to find another funding source or add something and take something else away,” Coddington said. “At this point in the process, that other funding source likely would have to be a levy.”

He added that there’s been no suggestion of pursuing a levy by the board.

The Spokane Public School board of directors is scheduled to consider the budget proposal at their regular meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the downtown administration offices, 200 N. Bernard St. Public testimony will be taken before a vote.

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