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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

60 teacher positions cut as Central Valley trims budget by $12.45 million

Crowds toured the new Selkirk Middle School during the Central Valley School District's “Behind the Fence Sneak Peek” tour of the new school on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

The Central Valley School Board unanimously approved $12.45 million in budget cuts Tuesday evening, which will result in the loss of about 60 teachers.

The school district, the second-largest in the Spokane area with an enrollment of 14,500, declared a financial emergency in April and projected a $12 million budget deficit.

“Your priorities are your priorities, whether it’s good times or bad times,” Superintendent Ben Small said.

The school board’s guiding principle throughout the budget evaluation process was to “maintain as many direct services and engagement opportunities for students as possible,” according to Small.

The loss of about 60 teachers, many of whom have already retired or resigned, will result in $4.5 million for the district.

To make the cuts possible, the district will restructure building and district administration to save $1 million.

Building and department budget savings will total $1 million, and restrictions will be put in place on out-of-area travel for purposes such as professional development and training.

The district plans to restructure certain programs and use Learning Assistance Program funding to keep programs afloat. Students will not see a change in services, but the way those services are provided will be restructured. Such programs include reading intervention classes, credit retrieval and AVID.

A previously levy-funded program to upgrade technology in schools will be cut, saving $1.3 million.

Multiple part-time positions will be consolidated to create single full-time positions to reduce School Employees Benefits Board, or SEBB, insurance costs. Dean of students positions also will be eliminated.

The school district will continue to use pilot curriculum programs rather than purchasing the material on the previous schedule, saving $450,000.

Custodial staffing will be reduced by 12 positions.

The state funds a prototypical model of education and positions beyond that model are funded by local levies, including custodial staff, nurses and school counselors.

“I don’t think we could operate at a pure prototypical model,” said Small, as other board members expressed agreement.

When it comes to answering community questions, the school board and its superintendent have focused on being transparent, but acknowledge there is no easy fix.

“People want simple answers as to why we’re here, and it’s more complex,” Small said of the budget deficit.

The district cited implementation of the SEBB insurance program, special education underfunding, reduced local levy authority, loss of levy equalization dollars and the implementation of bargained agreements as the reasons for the financial shortfall.

Since then, the 2019 legislative session has adjourned. Lawmakers raised the amount that school districts could levy from the previous $1.50 to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, addressing one of the major complaints of the so-called McCleary Fix. The Legislature restructured the school funding model in 2018 by raising state property taxes and imposing limits on local levy rates.

In February 2018, Central Valley district voters approved a local levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value – the maximum a school district could levy at the time. The prior levy rate was $3.23 per thousand of assessed value. Voters also approved a bond to build a new middle school and high school in the growing district.

The school board and superintendent are unsure whether they will go back to voters in November to ask for a levy increase or a technology levy to ease financial struggles.

Spokeswoman Marla Nunberg said the district will ask the community for feedback before deciding if they will pursue a new levy, but added that some parent groups have already shown support for the idea.