Federal Way schools avoid teacher furloughs

Federal Way Public Schools will manage to avoid furlough days for the 2012-13 school year by spending approximately $2 million of the district's savings next year.

Sally McLean, assistant superintendent of business services for FWPS, shared the news with the school board June 27 as part of the public hearing and adoption process for the budget.

"Specifically in regards to furlough days, I'm pleased to tell you we will not need to implement furlough days in 2012-13. This is great news," McLean said. "It's being driven by the fact that our conservative assumptions have now become known facts. And some of those known facts have been positive in terms of revenue streams and expenditure patterns."

Furlough days, which are essentially days of unpaid leave, have been a topic of discussion since last year. The state Legislature decided to cut 1.9 percent of teacher salaries in an attempt to get its books in order. In Federal Way, the thought was that the furloughs would equal about a week lost for teachers.

"We believe that not having seven-and-a-half days (lost) is instructionally better for our students," McLean said. "It's obviously financially better for employees. And I always like to remind folks that we are the largest employer in the city of Federal Way, so we have a bit of the economic engine for recovery of not just the city, but our surrounding areas."

McLean said this decision to spend the district's savings account is a one-year expenditure. Another positive, she said, is that if the district revisits the issue of furlough days in 2013-14, there is now a plan in place for the district to do so.

"We have the template in place now, we know what it will look like, and we know how to make that happen," she said.

The district anticipated the ending fund balance for this year to be approximately $9.9 million, but it ended up closer to $13.6 million. Because of that small windfall for FWPS, McLean said Superintendent Rob Neu decided to shift his recommendation regarding furlough days, and spend $2 million out of that $3.7 million to avoid having teachers sit idle.

The $213 million budget, including the modification to avoid furlough days, was approved unanimously by the board, marking the first time in two years that the district did not have to make significant cuts to teachers, staff or programs.

During the initial budget presentation in May, school board president Tony Moore had expressed his displeasure at the thought of furlough days, saying that no matter how it was worded, those days still represented cuts to the district's budget.

It was a more positive note on June 27, with board member Ed Barney thanking the fiscal conservatism of FWPS staff — crediting it for the district being able to avoid the furlough days for now.

"I'd like to thank those in the district, who did, conservatively, not spend a lot of those funds," Barney said. "We were able to do away with those furloughs. That made the difference. So thanks to all of our staffs and schools."

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