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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools approves $550 million budget, new 3-year contracts for teachers

Students file into the cafeteria on the way to classrooms on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year at the brand-new Shaw Middle School on Thursday, Sept. 2. The Spokane School Board of Directors approved a $550 million budget for 2022-2023 on Wednesday night, as well as a labor contract that will cause classes to begin an hour late on Monday mornings throughout the year so teachers can hold planning meetings.   (Libby Kamrowski/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane school board unanimously approved a half-billion-dollar budget Wednesday night while also agreeing to a labor deal that will delay the start of classes by an hour on Mondays during the school year.

Board members applauded staff for presenting a budget that invested in building and improvements while setting aside enough money to continue to attract good teachers and staff.

“We need to be able to compensate highly competent professionals for working with our students,” said Mike Wiser, president of the school board.

The $550 million spending plan is bolstered by $36.7 million of federal money laid out by Congress to assist local school districts in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Spokane Public Schools must spend its remaining $36.1 million of that money by September 2024, according to federal law.

Local property tax collections will make up $70 million of the district’s budget this school year, about 13% of its total expenses. That money was approved by voters in February 2021. Funds doled out by the state Legislature total $362 million, about 66% of the district’s planned expenses.

The budget presentation included a prediction for school years through 2026, after the federal COVID-19 funding and current levy expires. Steve Blaska, a community member, told the board he was concerned that deficits in those years would be made up through increases in local levies.

“Your plan consistently assumes expenditures will always grow faster than revenue growth,” Blaska said. “That logic requires infinitely deep taxpayer pockets.”

Board members and district staff responded that state budget forecasts are fluid, and that current investments have led to record high school graduation rates and other regional honors. But Riley Smith, a board member, acknowledged that the district would come back to the public for future support.

“We will continue to need your help,” Smith said.

The board’s unanimous adoption of the labor contract means that all classes in the district will begin an hour late on Mondays, beginning Sept. 12, to allow for professional development and building planning. Early dismissals on some Fridays, which have been used in prior years for such work, will go away this year as part of the labor agreement.

“The fact is our teachers need that collaboration time,” Wiser said. “I think Mondays are going to be awesome.”

Board members also praised the agreement’s establishment of “launch conferences,” which will take place between teachers and parents at the outset of the school year for both elementary and secondary students. Staff said they’d already had 40% of the district’s students sign up in the first week of availability.

Certified teachers in the district will have a starting base salary of $50,895 under the new labor deal, while the top earners under the contract will be teachers with an advanced degree and more than 16 years of experience. They will earn $101,416 in base salary. The teachers union approved the deal overwhelmingly last week. The new agreement increases the starting salary for teachers to a level that rivals the median household income earned in the city, which is $52,600, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

Expenses in 2022-2023 will increase 2.8% from the amount budgeted the year prior. The district’s enrollment, meanwhile, is predicted to fall about 3.6% compared to 2021-2022, according to data reported to the state’s Office of Public Instruction.

Classes will being in the district on Sept. 6, with kindergartners attending on an alternating scheduled beginning Sept. 7-12.