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Federal Way schools lose jobs and programs | School board blasts Legislature over funding

Federal Way Public Schools will cut jobs and programs in 2011-12 because of an $8 million shortfall in funding for the upcoming year.

This information was shared by Superintendent Rob Neu last Tuesday at the school board’s regular meeting. Neu said these cuts came with considerable deliberation and input from the community.

“What we heard, loud and clear from the community, is that they want us to focus on the whole child,” he said. “They want us to approach this budget with targeted reductions, not just five percent across the board, and to try and be more strategic with how we went about formulating the budget recommendation.”

The following programs and positions will face cuts in the next budget:

• Use of fund balance (savings): $1.2 million

• Reduced $1 million for program expansions to $200,000 (about $800,000 in savings)

• Reduction in Educational Service Center staff and services: approximately $900,000 in savings

• Reduction in support services staff: approximately $400,000 in savings

• Increase in class size at all grade levels by one student per class: $2 million in savings

• Reduction in instructional coaches: $1.2 million in savings

• All-day kindergarten: $1 million eliminated from para-educator support

• Elementary counselors/deans: Positions are reduced to part time at eight elementary schools, approximately $300,000 in savings

• Miscellaneous: Reduction in outside vendor contract; stipend reduction will save approximately $200,000

With the increase in class size, the ratio of students to teachers will increase from 25:1 to 26:1 for K-8 students. For high school students, class size will go from 26:1 to 27:1, keeping Federal Way below average for the state and below average for districts of similar size. This small change will also help save jobs, said Neu.

“That will save us 26 teaching positions,” he said.

Some jobs will be lost. In a May 10 press release, the school district indicated these cuts mean that “staff reductions (will) include the elimination of 50 certificated positions, many of which will be dealt with through attrition and staff transfers.”

Outside of those positions, “19 certificated employees will be laid off. In addition, 2.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) ESC positions, 5 FTE custodial positions, 2.7 FTE nutritional services positions and 1.4 FTE clerical staff positions will be cut, and para-educator hours are being reduced.”

According to the city, the school district is Federal Way's largest employer with more than 3,000 employees.

Reactions from school board

Neu wanted to let those know affected by these reductions and cuts that the district will help in whatever way possible.

“I want the folks to know that are affected, we stand ready to assist in any way,” he said. “I regret, deeply, having to make reductions to anybody’s hours, salaries or jobs.”

While talk of massive reductions and loss of jobs is never encouraging, Neu shared what he felt was the silver lining in this dark cloud.

“I’m very pleased that we’re not cutting any programs to students,” he said. “We protected the whole child with this budget recommendation. We didn’t cut all-day kindergarten, we didn’t cut any athletic programs, we didn’t cut music or the arts. I’m very, very proud of that.”

School board director Suzanne Smith expressed frustration that teachers are having to experience these cuts and an uncertain future.

“They’re hard economic times for everybody, especially for the dedicated staff and teachers, who, every day, come and do a job that most people wouldn’t last a week with,” she said. “Then (the Legislature is) talking about cutting and sacrificing and that (teachers) need to sacrifice like everybody else? No, they have been sacrificing more than everybody else already. (Teachers) need to be rewarded and looked up to and honored in our society.”

Fellow board member Ed Barney expressed a similar level of dissatisfaction with the current state of things.

“I’ve been on this board since we started making these cuts,” he said, referencing the school district’s need for cuts since 2000-01. “It doesn’t get better, it hasn’t been getting better. Until the Legislature gets its act together down in Olympia, I don’t see it getting any better.”

In his remarks, Barney called for citizens to email their legislators to let them know their dissatisfaction.

“I would love to see people email the Legislature and shut down their email system. Just black them out. It would be fun...I would love to see their IT people scramble on a limited budget,” he said, eliciting a few laughs from the crowd.

Board member Amye Bronson-Doherty and board president Tony Moore shared heavy hearts at the impact these cuts will have on Federal Way students, teachers and staff.

“Every department came to the table and laid out whatever they could to be bare bones and still function,” said Bronson-Doherty. “At this point, I think it’s the best we could do with what we had. I appreciate the sacrifices that are being made across the district.”

Moore’s thoughts were on the future, and how these budget problems will play out.

“I too am alarmed by the sheer amount that we have to cut and that we might not be done,” he said. “I have two concerns. One is the effect it will have on our students, which I think will be profound. Second, by all indicators we’re going to have to do more next year. So I would really encourage those of you who are watching the budget to email your legislator and tell them we’re at a really critical place here. We need to let them know in a very serious way that education is supposed to be...their paramount responsibility, and they’re letting our kids down.”

The board will act on the budget recommendations on June 28. For more information on Federal Way Public Schools, visit www.fwps.org.

 

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