Cash-strapped Federal Way schools must tap savings | 'This is uncharted territory'

Federal Way Public Schools will spend an additional $2 million out of the district’s savings fund in order to meet the statewide salary drawdown requirement that was part of the state budget released on May 24.

The district had already proposed to spend $1 million out of its savings fund to alleviate an originally projected $8 million budget shortfall.

For FWPS administrators, the additional burden of figuring out where to shave that extra $2 million from an already emaciated budget was a difficult choice, said Sally McLean, assistant superintendent of business services.

“We really had four options, and they were all really difficult options to think about,” she said during the regular board meeting June 28.

Those options included furlough days, further reductions in programs, negotiating concessions from the nine labor groups that are partnered with FWPS, or to absorb the additional $2 million by spending down the district’s savings fund, McLean said. With each, there were significant issues to take into consideration.

Furlough days were an option dangled in front of school districts by the Legislature, but ended up being taken off the table, McLean said.

“Unfortunately, when the Legislature finished their special session on Tuesday, May 24, they didn’t grant school districts, individually, any legal authority to implement furlough days in 2011-12,” McLean said.

McLean said the district contemplated civil disobedience — with the thought being that the district would implement furlough days regardless of the state’s position on the subject. However, she said, the district thought better of that choice because it meant the district could be “running a financial risk by implementing furlough days” next year.

Because of the reductions already taking place from the original budget proposal, McLean said the district felt it would have been difficult to implement further reductions. Negotiating concessions from the district’s labor groups was something the district didn’t feel was a feasible choice, for a couple of reasons, said McLean.

“It would have yielded unequal results. Different groups would have provided different concessions in regards to the salary allocation, and I think one of our fundamental concerns was that would tend to be an invisible impact,” she said. “We feel at this point in time that it’s important for our parents, our community and our legislators to understand that there is an impact to a $10 million reduction.”

That left the district with the choice of spending the additional $2 million out of its savings fund, a move that will only sustain the district for one year, said McLean.

“If we’re going to absorb this reduction, we can do it for one year only,” she said.

With that additional $2 million being drained from the district’s coffers, McLean said FWPS will be in unprecedented territory in the next few years. The usable part of the district’s savings fund is projected to be $7.2 million for this year. With the additional money being spent, McLean projects the district’s savings fund will be down to $4.2 million by August 2012.

“This is uncharted territory, extraordinary, unprecedented, you guys can pick some words,” McLean said.

With that discussion over, the board passed the 2011-12 budget with a 4-0 vote, with board member Amye Bronson-Doherty absent.

Superintendent Rob Neu and board member Suzanne Smith shared their thoughts on the budget and the challenges presented to educators throughout Washington by legislators in Olympia.

“This was a difficult budget,” said Neu. “I want to reiterate to the community, the fight is not here between us, it’s between here and Olympia. We have got to get Olympia to step up to the challenge and quit passing it to us, especially the way they did it this year, with no time for resolution.”

Smith echoed the frustration with Olympia, and called for students and parents to let the Legislature know this state of affairs cannot continue.

“I’m in total agreement with this,” she said, reading from a document: “’It is the parties’ mutual intent to schedule these furlough days while the 2013 Legislature is in session.’ We are going to make these public, and we are going to make these available for families to make field trips down to the people who brought you these legislative actions and cuts and the disregard for the paramount duty of the State of Washington.”


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