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Thursday, February 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Spokane schools to host forums on restoring elementary school specialists

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 22, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Public Schools will host four community forums during the next week on the elementary school specialist model, which was one of the most contentious issues arising from last year’s budget cuts.

In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better.

While the Legislature debates budget issues in Olympia, the district and its board of directors will have a chance to distill recommendations from a work group that is studying that very thing: restoring the old model.

And no matter what direction the district takes, it comes ahead of the planned move of sixth-graders to middle schools.

“We’re just waiting to get the input and recommendations from the committee, and the board will look at that,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said Tuesday. “Then we’ll look at the budget and go from there.”

Among the cuts was the change in the elementary school specialist model, which required schools to choose between a science and music specialist, and the elimination of librarians, which eventually led to early release every Friday.

Many have hoped to reverse that change, which also saw a loss of about 25 hours of instructional time over the course of the year. It also meant that visual arts instruction now falls primarily on homeroom teachers.

Since last fall, a work group consisting of teachers, specialists, principals and parents has received input from a survey of parents and staff.

Among its conclusions: “There is a lot of support for the programs which we have historically provided kids around art and music and health and fitness,” said Associate Superintendent Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer.

For school board President Jerrall Haynes, the feedback from parents “has been a mixed bag.”

“We’ve heard some positive things and some not so positive,” Haynes said.

Beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. at Glover Middle School, the district will seek more public input on the specialist model.

Additional forums – all beginning at 6 p.m. – will be held Monday at Sacajawea Middle School, Tuesday at Chase Middle School and Wednesday at Shaw Middle School.

According to a district statement, the forums will be a “more personal exchange and dialogue about strengths, weaknesses, and considerations.”

The considerations are numerous.

As the district pointed out in a recent letter to parents, “Any recommendations the workgroup makes must operate within the current budget climate, establish a consistent district-wide model, minimize transitions and maximize instructional minutes, support the district’s academic goals and meet the terms of the recently approved collective bargaining agreement.”

The goal is to have a potential draft model to begin discussing as part of the budget process as soon as next month. At that point, it will be part of the larger discussions around a final budget, which must be completed by the end of August.

The district remains under tight budget constraints that were adjusted last year to meet changes to how school districts are funded statewide as a result of the Legislature’s implementation of the McCleary court decision.

“The financial piece is the biggest hurdle,” Haynes said Tuesday.

Redinger also worried about the mechanics of moving librarians back to their old positions. However, time is once again on the district’s side, should it choose to restore librarians.

Last year, changing the specialist model was a done deal long before August, as librarians were either laid off or moved involuntarily to other positions. Eventually, hundreds of employees were moved.

By the time board members realized that the total savings derived from early release Fridays was only $1.2 million, it was too late to change.

This year, provided the money is available, employees should have plenty of notice of the change.

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