News

School facing budget crisis

By KENNY CHING

Staff writer

The Federal Way school district looks like it’s on the rack.

From the federal level, through what is commonly known as the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, the district is under pressure such as it has never felt before to make certain that children and schools pass extensive new objective criteria.

But meanwhile, from the state level, because of revenue shortfalls, funding is being cut to the tune of about $5 million in 2003-04.

It is the most difficult financial situation Federal Way Public Schools has faced in superintendent Tom Murphy’s 15-year career as a local administrator, he said in a meeting Monday.

“This is going to cause us to make painful decisions,” Murphy said, referring to the fact that 85 percent of Federal Way’s budget goes toward personnel –– 75 percent toward teachers or classroom support.

The bottom line is that in the likely event that the governor’s budget is passed as is, Federal Way schools will need to make $5 million in cuts, and the bulk of those cuts can only come out of staff.

Murphy and senior administrators, however, weren’t willing to concede that education in Federal Way will be hurt.

“Our commitment to making all kids successful is not going to change,” Murphy said. He pointed to local successes such as improved fourth-grade WASL scores despite increased local poverty rates as indicators that some things are going well in Federal Way schools.

“We can believe that people will work harder, but the job will be more difficult,” he said. And although Murphy hasn’t spelled out the specifics, some teachers will almost certainly be laid off.

The district employs some 1,200 teachers who on average are paid $48,000 per year, plus benefits which are estimated to make an average teacher’s annual pay $57,500. So if one were trying to save $5 million, firing about 89 teachers should do the trick. This, however, would make it that much more difficult to meet the goal of passing increasingly rigorous state and federal academic standards, which students who are in seventh grade today will need to meet if they want to hang a high school diploma on their walls.

In 2006, 10th-graders will need to pass the WASL in order to graduate, an academic hurdle that as of today as few as 35 percent are entirely clearing. Further, the federal government has mandated that in 12 years, schools will need to pass even more rigorous standards or else be considered a failing school.

Murphy said that he doesn’t know whether Federal Way would be able to meet those standards.

What makes this situation even harder is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no reason to believe that the economy will bounce back soon enough to make up for the budget shortfall, Murphy said. State legislators need to make education funding not subject to the rise and fall of the economy, he said.

The superintendent hasn’t finalized his budget proposal for the district, but he will by April 22 when he presents it to the School Board.

Staff writer Kenny Ching: 925-5565 kching@fedwaymirror.com

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