School funding: Federal Way braces for big cuts

Facing even more massive financial cuts, Federal Way Public Schools is already turning its attention to the 2012-13 budget.

State budget shortfalls have been announced, and federal funding reductions are under way. Sally McLean, assistant superintendent for business services, explained some of the implications for FWPS.

“The budget that was adopted last May was adopted to run from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013,” McLean said in a presentation to the school board on Oct. 25. “I’m here to tell you, based on the outlook, we know additional K-12 reductions will occur. The only questions really are, how much? And when?”

McLean said that in a biennial budget, the first year usually would see some adjustments, while in the second year, some money would be added to the budget. The new normal is much more grim, she said.

“The new normal is, once the biennial budget is adopted, it begins to be revised downward immediately. And we have seen that happen in the 2009-11 biennium, and we’re seeing that happen now. And this is the first time in 40 years, or more than 40 years, the state has had back-to-back negative outlooks in terms of their budgets,” she said.

As the state Legislature wrestles with its next biennial budget that covers 2011-13, McLean said Federal Way — and school districts across the state — may have to make cuts as soon as Jan. 1, 2012. And those cuts won’t be pretty.

“These are examples of an ‘all-cuts’ budget…these are all of the kinds that would have to be done to hit about half a billion (in reductions),” she said. “There would be an additional K-12 salary reduction. There would be a reduction in the school year from 180 to 179 days. There would be a two-thirds elimination of levy equalization, or what we also refer to as Local Effort Assistance. It would eliminate 100 percent of the state funded all-day kindergarten programs. It would eliminate 100 percent of K-3 class size enhancements.”

McLean reviewed FWPS cuts to its budget dating back to 2000-01. She said $32 million has been reduced in the last decade. Using that all-cuts budget projection, she said, would result in another $10 million to $13 million in cuts for the FWPS budget for 2012-13. The one scenario that would truly throw a monkey wrench in things, McLean said, is if the state Legislature requires districts to make cuts by Jan. 1, 2012.

“Our teaching staff is on contract, and that would require us to make any sort of reductions outside of the teaching staff, and it could cause some very strange kinds of reductions to occur. If we’re faced with another $10 million reduction, that’s going to restrict the kinds of student opportunities we can provide,” she said.

Superintendent Rob Neu shared his thoughts on the fact the district is discussing a budget so early into the school year, calling it unprecedented. Neu said that if the worst case scenarios come to fruition, FWPS is going to find itself in a difficult place.

“(Reducing) Local Effort Assistance is devastating to us, while leaving other districts untouched in that particular category. 66 percent of that LEA, to us, would be about $6 million,” Neu said, adding that LEA was meant to be a great equalizer. “In this particular budget scenario, we get hit twice as hard as some districts that are twice as big.”

As the dark clouds loom larger on the horizon, Neu did warn that Federal Way is going to have to learn to adjust to its new, cash-strapped reality.

“We also have to understand in this community, that some of the programs and services, and the way we are used to doing things in our education system, may not be the same,” he said. “We will be establishing some new norms while we go through these difficult times.”


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