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Federal Way schools avoid teacher layoffs | 'Ghosts' haunt district

After having to shave $10 million from its budget last year, and approximately $32 million over the last decade, Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) officials were finally able to bring a budget before the school board that did not include significant funding cuts or job losses for the first time since 2010.

During the school board meeting May 8, Superintendent Rob Neu gave his first presentation for his budget recommendation to the board. Neu said he was pleased to bring a positive budget before the board, for once.

"The good news is, we won't be cutting $10 million. There will be adjustments that will need to be made," Neu said. "We will not be announcing any layoffs to our teaching staff this year. In these economic times, I'm very pleased to bring that to you."

Sally McLean, assistant superintendent of business services, framed this year's budget in terms of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." She said the budget is a product of the ghosts of legislative sessions past, present and future. She began by saying the Legislature's decisions from last year are seen in this budget through the salary reductions that were introduced last year.

"As Superintendent Neu so aptly reminded us, we found ourselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place (last year)," she said. "We suffered a reduction in revenue, roughly $2 million, and through many deliberations at the board level, we made the decision to cover that with our fund balance this year for 2011-12."

For the 2012-13 budget, McLean said that the salary reduction will be met by having teachers go on furlough days. While the teachers will work less, she reassured the board that students will not lose out in the process.

"It's important to point out, from a student and family perspective, that while the school calendar will have some impacts on students and families, instructional time will be maintained," she said.

The other area being affected by the ghosts of legislative sessions past in this current budget is funding for what the state terms Alternative Learning Experiences (ALE).

In Federal Way, ALE is most noticeable in the Internet Academy. Because of last year's Legislature, funding for ALE has been reduced from anywhere between 10-20 percent, McLean said. For the Internet Academy, the reduction is anticipated to be approximately $350,000.

"Historically, when the Internet Academy was established, and until this year, we have run the Internet Academy as an enterprise or as a business. They were required to generate enough revenue to cover their expenditures. Obviously, when you lose 15 percent of your funding, then that makes it a little difficult to run as an enterprise or business," McLean said.

Neu and McLean recommended to the board that, for the time being, the district should subsidize the Internet Academy for the foreseeable future, although there is a lawsuit currently in King County to fight the funding cut to ALE in the state.

Outside of those changes, McLean said another item on the horizon from the Legislature's past is going to be a new healthcare benefit reporting system for K-12 employees. This new requirement will have districts collecting new sets of data, compiling it, and then transmitting it to four different state agencies. Currently, this is something the district has no ability to support, McLean said, and she and other FWPS higher-ups will keep an eye on the issue.

The district's financial guru closed out her presentation by echoing some of Neu's comments earlier.

"It is a pleasure to bring a budget recommendation to you that has so very little human impact in it," she said.

The first public hearing on this budget is scheduled for June 12, with the second scheduled for June 26.

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