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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools hands layoff notices to 72 classified staff

The head custodian of Sacajawea Middle School clears the snow from the walkways before the students arrive for school, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane motorists aren’t the only ones hoping for a mild winter.

Among the biggest cuts in next year’s Spokane Public Schools proposed operating budget announced Thursday is $4.65 million in support services – primarily custodial and maintenance operations.

That translates to as many as 40 fewer employees to clean and maintain the schools and grounds.

“I’m hopeful we won’t have a hard winter,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said Thursday afternoon as the district gave layoff notices to 72 classified staff.

That was actually good news. Last month, the district expected to lay off 142 classified workers. However, retirements, resignations and other factors cut that number in half.

At the same time, 11 certificated staff – out of 183 given layoff notices on April 11 – were recalled because their specialties couldn’t be filled by other staff.

That drops the total layoff number to 244, which is still problematic.

“We’ve done this to our programs and people, but now we have to figure out how we do the work,” Redinger said.

The proposed budget, crafted in 48 hours by chief financial officer Linda McDermott and her staff following the close of the legislative session last weekend, was revealed late Wednesday night to board members.

It reflects almost $10 million in revenue from the Legislature, leaving a budget deficit of about $22.6 million that can be rectified only by cuts in staffing and programs.

To find that money, the district has proposed cuts, mostly in personnel, which were presented in detail Wednesday night.

The board has until late August to finalize the budget.

On Thursday, Redinger sent a message to district staff, reviewing the budget situation.

“Today, we had difficult conversations with 72 staff members about their status for the next school year,” it began.

“We do not anticipate giving any more layoff notifications and are working through the process of matching student-driven building needs to settle on a final staffing plan.”

The biggest line item is school staffing, where the district hopes to save $14.1 million.

In the process, K-3 staffing ratios were adjusted to meet K-3 compliance while class sizes for grades 4-6 will grow.

Part of that $14.1 million cut was realized through better efficiencies in how elementary schools handle specialists, according to chief academic officer Adam Swinyard.

Instead of allowing a different model for all 34 schools, they must now choose between an in-house science or arts specialist, but not both. A homeroom teacher would handle lessons in the subject not handled by a specialist.

One of the more difficult cuts came in the mentoring program for new teachers. Budgeted for $742,160 this year, it will fall to $332,720 next year as outside grant dollars dry up.

“What’s really sad is that we’ve invested a lot of money in these new teachers,” said Redinger, who last month was forced to give layoff notices to many of them.

Other major cuts came at the expense of the Human Resources Department (whose budget will fall from $9 million to $8 million) and student intervention and support services (from $2.7 million to $2.1 million).

Also, the districtwide budget for campus security (which is under the “School Support Services” umbrella) will be cut almost in half from $1.8 million to $971,000.