News

School district budget trudges on

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Next Tuesday is one of the public’s last formal opportunities to comment on Federal Way Public Schools’ plan to cut millions of dollars from its next budget.

The School Board will conduct a public hearing on the proposed 2003-04 budget at 7 p.m. at Federal Way City Hall. The board is scheduled to approve a final budget Aug. 12.

For months, district officials have wrestled with spending $5 million to $6.4 million less on programs and employees, depending on state budget decisions by the Legislature. Also, student enrollment has declined, resulting in another reduction of state funding for the district.

Officials said a $1.5 million contingency that was part of the district’s higher, worst-case scenario “will be consumed” by personnel and insurance costs.

The latter include state-mandated pay raises for teachers who are in their first through sixth year of teaching (a $260,000 cost for the district) and increases in healthcare insurance for all district employees.

The district also is facing a $360,000 increase in the cost of liability insurance, brought on by losses in the insurance industry tied to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The 48 percent jump is nearly five times the 10 percent originally expected, officials said.

In addition:

• $140,000 of the contingency fund is earmarked for the Learning

Assistance Program and another $95,000 is pegged for the district’s AmeriCorps program to make up for lower government funding. The programs provide tutoring and other one-on-one instruction.

• $250,000 that superintendent Tom Murphy is recommending be put back in the budget will soften the reduction of library assistants in elementary schools. The new proposal is for 10 schools with the greatest need to have a four-hours-a-day assistant. The remaining 13 schools would each have an assistant for two hours per day.

Meanwhile, budget cuts or related fiscal impacts are planned for fifth-grade music (eliminated), personnel (about a 4 percent workforce reduction in the teacher and other employee ranks), interscholastic athletics in high schools and middle schools (pay-to-play fees of $70 and $40 per student per sport, respectively) and a gifted-student program in elementary schools (out).

District officials have bridled at the pending cuts. Murphy has complained that governments are reducing funding for education at the same time they’re requiring higher academic standards. And School Board member Charles Hoff said the district’s proposed budget doesn’t meet the needs of Federal Way students.

Hoff will miss the next two board meetings but said he would vote against the budget if he could be there Aug. 12 for the final decision.

He said he doesn't know if his vote would make a difference in the budget passing or not. "The other (four) board members have their own opinions," he noted.

More than 70 percent of money for the district’s budget comes from the state. Recent cuts by the state are on top of losses for the district caused by declining enrollment. Last school year, enrollment was down 250 students from the year before, and officials predict another 310 will be gone when the 2003-04 school year begins this fall. For every 25-student drop in enrollment, the district loses $100,000 in state funding. This year, the hit was $1 million. Another $1.2 million could be lost next year.

Adding to the gloomy outlook is that the two-year budget passed by the Legislature last month could be revised for the worse next year if the economy doesn’t improve.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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