News

Students, public face higher school fees

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools is proposing cuts in expenses and increasing fees –– including those for sports –– to balance the more than $1 million gap in the 2006-07 budget.

Employee layoffs are not anticipated, but district officials said some workers might be reassigned to different schools or programs.

While the district received funding increases from the state, including $790,000 for levy equalization, Sally McLean, the district's chief financial officers, said it's not enough to cover the rising costs of fuel –– estimated to cost $450,000 this year –– and utilities. Also, some of the mandates from the Legislature, like teacher pay raises, aren't fully funded by the state and the district will have to find the money from its own coffers.

Among the ways the district is considering making up the difference:

• Increasing high school athletic fees from $70 to $105 per sport, per student. Students would pay a maximum of $210 if they played more than one sport. Middle school students would pay $70 –– up from $40 –– to a $210 maximum. The anticipated revenue from the fees is $150,000.

• Increase rental fee charges by 20 percent to use district facilities. Most non-school organizations rent the district's facilities for $10. The anticipated revenue is $85,000.

• Charge student governments 50 percent of the cost to transport athletic teams. The anticipated revenue is $110,000.

The district is also proposing cuts:

• Reduce out-of-state travel by 50 percent, an estimated savings of $115,000. McLean said the cut would affect teachers and staff but not students because they raise money to travel outside Washington.

• Increase middle school class sizes from 24.5 students to 25, the same as elementary schools. Estimated savings is $240,000.

The cuts and increases were recommended to superintendent Tom Murphy by the district's fiscal advisory committee. The committee is made up of parents, other community members and district personnel.

Two years ago, Murphy recommended a two-phase increase in athletic fees, with the first increase going to $70 for high school students. The second increase didn't happen for the 2004-05 school year because the state sent more money to the district because of higher enrollment.

Parents and students were unhappy with the fee increase two years ago. Several spoke at School Board meetings, arguing the cost was a burden on families.

Charles Hoff, board member, isn't expecting people to like the new proposed increases.

Calling the increases "not desirable, but inevitable," Hoff said the district charges less than others for athletics, and raising fees is one of the realities of running the district.

Items that are driving costs include a 1.2 percent cost-of-living wage increase for teachers. The state is paying some of it. Federal Way has to come up with about $665,000.

Districts often hire more instructors for programs and schools than the state pays for via a set funding formula. Like other districts, Federal Way taps its maintenance and operation levy dollars to cover the cost.

Other big increases include employee health insurance, which went up 8 percent. That comes to $650,000 for the district to pay to make up for what isn't being paid for by the state. Also, pensions are going up 2.4 percent –– another $660,000 on the district's tab.

The district has dealt with funding shortages before. The largest gap was two years ago, when a lower-than-expected enrollment and cuts from the state added up to $6.4 million in reductions. Three years ago, it was $2 million.

This school year, the district did comparatively well, holding on to what it had but not making any gains. McClean told the board earlier in the year to expect a cut for 2006-07.

The board will adopt a final budget this summer. Public hearings will be scheduled.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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