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Teacher salaries go down in Federal Way | Schools defend paraeducators

While Federal Way schools dealt with the painful ramifications of cutting jobs, more bad news came down the pipe Tuesday when the proposed state budget was announced.

Among the talking points of the state budget was a 1.9 percent cut to teacher and educator salaries statewide. For Federal Way schools, the average teacher salary of $50,827 would be reduced to $49,851. Classified positions within the district would be reduced from an average of $31,865 to $31,260, while administrative positions would see average salaries go from $57,986 to $56,246.

Paraeducators and principals get fired up

As Federal Way Public Schools navigate through tough budget decisions, the public let Superintendent Rob Neu and the school board know they were unhappy with decisions already made.

Dozens of paraeducators and their supporters made their voices heard Tuesday night during the board’s regular meeting. Jason Brown, a fourth-grade teacher and the president of the Federal Way Education Association, feels the real culprits are in Olympia.

“Without a doubt, the cuts our district had to make hurts our most valuable resource — kids,” Brown said. “It is important to note, however, the blame for these cuts does not lie with the district, but with the lawmakers in Olympia. They passed the burden onto the districts to do the dirty work, as they do not have the courage, or the professionalism, to do it themselves.”

The school district recently announced cuts to jobs and programs in 2011-12 because of an $8 million shortfall in funding for the upcoming year. Brown commended Neu and the board for the way they “handled the burden that was handed to them.”

Mirror Lake kindergarten teacher Barb Jooranstad said the loss of paraeducators is going to create difficulties in the classroom. She referenced the difficulty teachers will face as they attempt to balance meeting the individual needs of each child while maintaining control of a classroom.

“Aside from the safety issues of being the only staff member in a classroom of up to 24 or 25 five- year-olds, consider how a teacher will be able to sit with a small reading group or small math group to work individually with them, while the other 20 students are expected to stay on task and work independently,” she said. “Five-year-olds do not work that way.”

Jooranstad finished with a simple question: “Is there nothing else that won’t have such a direct impact on our children and on the whole child?”

Principals from Green Gables, Silver Lake, Sunnycrest, Wildwood, Camelot and Woodmont elementary schools stood in a show of solidarity with their leadership. Green Gables principal Todd Wood summed up his fellow principals’ thoughts on the budget crisis and the decisions that must be made.

“It is this focus on children that unites us in this work we do. We stand here tonight to communicate with you that we will remain united with you in this purpose. And we will continue to stand with you throughout the decisions ahead,” he said.

Two Mark Twain kindergarten teachers, Jolinda Hernandez and Alexandra Hernandez, delivered a Powerpoint presentation. They illustrated the need for paraeducators, showing that in fall 2009, 87 percent of kindergartners at Mark Twain were not meeting early literacy standards. By spring of 2010, those numbers had almost completely flipped, with 95 percent of Twain kindergartners meeting early literacy standards.

That’s a testament to the school’s all-day kindergarten (ADK) paraeducators, “our ADK program and to the hard work we all do in collaboration,” they said.

One speaker who showed some ire with the district was Lisa Milbradt, co-president of the Olympic View Elementary PTA. She spoke to the impact that paraeducators had on her daughter, and how the removal of those positions from the district will be harmful.

“(My daughter) began the school year with a limited knowledge of our written language and numerical system. However, she, along with her ADK classmates, can (now) read, understand, basic language concepts. (They) can solve basic math problems, including addition and subtraction. A feat that is not only herculean, but would not be possible without the intervention of the paras,” she said.

Milbradt continued, saying Federal Way schools have some of the best kindergarten teachers and paraeducators in the state. The need for paraeducators is doubly important in Federal Way, she said, because of the diverse language backgrounds of many students.

The loss of the paraeducators is going to be felt deeply, Milbradt said.

“Quite simply, our all-day kindergarten program will be reduced to nothing better than a daycare environment,” she said. “This will not be the fault of our teachers, but the fault of a district who feels that the way to balance their budget is to cripple the teaching ability of our kindergarten teachers.”

Fast facts

The following Federal Way school 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.

• Staff reductions will include the elimination of 50 certificated positions, many of which will be dealt with through attrition and staff transfers.

• The school district is Federal Way’s largest employer with more than 3,000 employees.

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