Lake Washington School District budget takes shape amid state cuts

Modest elementary class size increase; no layoffs

 

The major cuts to K-12 education in the last state legislative session come down to two areas:

  • funding for staff compensation and
  • funding to reduce class sizes in grades K-4.

 

The challenge for district administrators preparing the 2011-12 budget was that the top two priorities of parents and community members, as expressed in a 2009 survey, were:

1.       to maintain efforts to attract and retain high quality staff and

2.       to protect smaller class sizes.

 

Since 2009, state cuts to funding used for K-4 class size reduction amount to over $13 million, including $2.6 million for the 2011-12 budget. The district has used levy dollars and budget cuts in other areas to maintain class sizes since these reductions began, while many other school districts have already increased class size and have laid off teachers as a result.

 

“The bottom line is that local levy dollars are filling in the holes the state has dug,” noted Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent. “For 2011-12, levy money will continue to take care of most of the cuts to K-4 class size enhancements. Even with those efforts, we will have a small adjustment in K-4 class sizes.”

 

For 2011-12, the district will implement the last $1.5 million of cuts through a modest increase in class size. It will amount to just over one student per class for grades K-4. The district will still cover the previous cuts over time and over $1 million in the latest cuts of funds to support lower class sizes. The increase in class size will result in the elimination of about 17 to 18 teacher positions through attrition as more than that number of teachers retired or resigned at the end of this school year so the positions will simply remain unfilled.

 

The implementation of this change affects the number of teachers assigned to each elementary school, based on enrollment numbers. Depending on the exact number of students who enroll at a specific school in a specific grade, class size may vary. Kindergarten and grade one staffing will change from 19:1 to 20:1. For grades two and three, the change will be from 23.9:1 to 25:1. For grade four, the change will be from 25.12:1 to 26.75:1. Grades five and six will remain unchanged at 26.75:1. The staffing ratio for junior high and high school will stay the same as well. (Grades 5-12 have not had the benefit of funding to reduce class sizes.)

 

Before the most recent cut, teacher compensation had been cut by $1 million by the state since 2009 through cutting the number of days worked. The district has covered that reduction through local levy dollars and cuts to other areas.

 

“Time for training and planning is critical for effective teaching,” noted Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent. “It’s also an important item for staff recruitment and retention.”

 

This year, the legislature reduced funding for base salaries for an impact on district staff of $2 million total. In addition, pension rates are going up, which will also reduce staff paychecks. The district has made proposals to unions whose contracts are open or have a reopen clause and to other staff groups to maintain compensation levels through some additional work days.

 

The district’s proposals include time devoted to preparing for transitions to the next school year. That will be particularly important in 2011-12 as schools and families prepare for the change in the fall of 2012 to grades K-5 elementary schools, grades 6-8 middle schools and grades 9-12 high schools.

 

“An unprecedented number of students and staff members will be changing schools in the fall of 2012. These extra days would be a great help in making sure this transition is as smooth as possible for our students and their families,” noted Dr. Kimball.

 

Other budget changes

In addition to the state budget cuts, the federal stimulus dollars ended with the 2010-11 budget, a reduction of $2.6 million in revenues for next year. Some fixed costs, like insurance, utilities and fuel, will increase, for an addition of $400,000 in expenses. One-time costs include additional safety net teachers for one year, as well as start-up costs for the new STEM school and in preparation for the grade configuration change. The district also chose some small increases in program support, including one program, a textbook inventory system, which will save the district money.

 

The 2011-12 proposed budget was presented to the Lake Washington School District board of directors at its June 20 meeting. A hearing on the budget will be held at the August 8 school board meeting, where the board will also vote on the budget. Comments on the budget may be sent to the school board at board@lwsd.org.