News

School budget boosted

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy presented the School Board Tuesday with his plan for how to use $1.5 million in contingency fund money that’s available to the district.

Some of the fund, which had been built into the school district budget at the beginning of the year as a buffer in case the budget shortfall was much worse than the anticipated $6.4 million, will make up for unanticipated increases in costs, such as liability insurance.

The rest of the contingency money will be used to reinstate some of the anticipated cuts that were necessary for balancing the budget, said Debra Stenberg, a spokeswoman for the district.

Money for the budget comes from local, federal and state sources.

The proposed allocation focuses on the “four pillars” of the district: student achievement, literacy, equity and achievement, and the transition process for middle and high schools, which is to be completed by the beginning of the 2003-04 school year.

One change in Murphy’s proposal is the restoration of some library assistants’ positions to high-needs schools — defined as schools with a free and reduced-price lunch program — and some elementary schools.

If approved by the board Aug. 12, the reinstatement would restore an average of 40 percent (of the original library assistant positions before the $6.4 million shortfall) to the elementary schools, according to the official budget recommendation document.

Murphy suggested that $150,000 from the contingency fund be used to reinstate library assistants at high-needs schools for four hours a day, and $100,000 be used to reinstate library assistants at other elementary schools for two hours a day.

Still, board member Bob Millen said the proposed change is “not as good as I would like to see it.” He wondered if the suggested amount of library assistant reinstatements would make a significant difference in student literacy.

A proposed allocation of $95,000 to the AmeriCorps program was another major change in the amended budget recommendation. The money would keep the program operating at its current level of service.

AmeriCorps funding is being cut 58 percent, so the money will be needed to retain current tutors. The tutors, who are trained for 10 eight-hour days, are paid a pre-tax monthly stipend of $825, according to Monda Holsinger, AmeriCorps supervisor for the district.

AmeriCorps tutoring statistics show a 76.5 percent improvement for students who were tutored one on one from September 2002 to February 2003.

Murphy also suggested allocating $140,000 of the contingency fund to the Learning Assistance Program (LAP) for supplemental instruction to students who are lagging behind their grade levels in reading, math or language arts. According to the budget recommendation, since LAP funding is based on test scores, and test scores are increasing, funding has decreased.

Murphy, using the district’s focus on literacy and math, its equity and achievement plan, student achievement plan and transition program as guidelines, recommended that LAP funding be continued at its current levels.

The rest of the contingency fund, if approved, will pay for unanticipated district operational costs, like raises for new teachers, liability insurance increases, teacher healthcare benefits and increased costs for smaller class sizes (Initiative 728), among other things.

As part of the contingency plan, Better Schools Funding would be eliminated for the 2004-05 school year. In addition, the recommendation to close an elementary school in 2004-05 would be delayed a year.

The delay “will allow us one more year of enrollment trend data and will coincide with the opening of our new middle school, thus making all the boundary changes at one time rather than making them in two consecutive years,” Murphy said.

The board will hold a public hearing for budget comments and recommendations on July 22 at 7 p.m. at Federal Way City Hall The board will vote on a final budget Aug. 12.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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