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Sunday, August 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Mead School Board cuts alternative school, suspends Riverpoint, but staff layoffs still under review

UPDATED: Tue., May 7, 2019, 9:57 p.m.

At Riverpoint Academy, a tech and science-focused school in the Mead School District, students work on project-oriented assignments, building, creating and experimenting in various subjects. The Mead School District a two-year closure of the school as they work to cut $12 million from next year’s budget. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
At Riverpoint Academy, a tech and science-focused school in the Mead School District, students work on project-oriented assignments, building, creating and experimenting in various subjects. The Mead School District a two-year closure of the school as they work to cut $12 million from next year’s budget. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

They were more than numbers in a column.

The budget cuts approved Tuesday night by the Mead School Board added up to $11.3 million and quite a few tears – for students, teachers and even board President Carmen Green.

Moments after the board unanimously approved the cuts, including a two-year closure of Riverpoint Academy and shutdown of M.E.A.D. Alternative High School, Green began to read from a prepared script.

She didn’t get far.

“I think it’s really important that people here understand how difficult this has been on all of us and all of you. We’ve taken it very seriously,” Green said before choking up and handing the paper to Vice President Chad Burchard.

Speaking to an audience of about 50 at the district offices, Burchard outlined what most already knew: “That it’s no small task to cut almost $12 million” and still deliver high-quality education.

“While all the budget cuts we are approving are extremely difficult, the decision to close both M.E.A.D. and Riverpoint Academy have been particularly hard,” Burchard said. “As a board we understand the value and positive impact both programs have had, and currently have, on students.”

Several weeks earlier, district staff had offered about $15 million in possible cuts. That left about $3 million in programs and personnel that might be spared.

Two weeks ago, advocates from Riverpoint, M.E.A.D. and other programs had pleaded with the board to spare their programs.

However, the deficit was too great and the relief afforded by the Legislature too little, so the board instead focused on saving as many jobs as possible. Cutting the two programs will save $1.6 million.

It’s too early to tell, but between possible retirements, employees on leave and requirements to lower K-3 class sizes, staffing cuts may be minimal.

“What we’re really trying to zero in on is not having to give anybody a pink slip,” said Superintendent Tom Rockefeller, who expects to have firm numbers by Friday or Monday.

After the meeting, Green and Burchard said it was important to preserve the jobs of nurses, counselors, social workers and special education employees.

“That (the nursing staff) didn’t seem like a good place to cut,” Green said. “That felt like an opportunity for something to go bad.”

At the same time, Green pointed out that Mead employs 20 registered nurses, but is reimbursed for only 1 1/2.

“So when they’re fully funding school, we’re paying for that 1 1/2 school nurses and their benefits. But you have 20,” Green said.

For Burchard, cutting social workers wasn’t an option. “As a matter of fact, we’d like to have more – it’s an epidemic and we didn’t want to cut there,” he said.

In a difficult compromise, staffing for the English Learners program was reduced but not eliminated.

“I don’t know how you can have kids who come to us in the circumstances they do, as refugees,” Green said. “They’re already in culture shock, and then we reduce services to them to help them acclimate and love our community and love our country.”

More work lies ahead, beginning with some healing from the cuts. Counselors from Mead and Mt. Spokane high schools will be at M.E.A.D. and Riverpoint to help students and staff adjust to the news.

Moving forward, the board will establish a community task force to explore and make recommendations on how to best serve all students with a wide variety of learning options.

“As funds become available, we want to assure you we are committed to expanding learning opportunities for all students,” Burchard said.

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