News

Fewer teachers and librarians likely

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

The cuts are deep.

Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy has proposed cutting teaching positions and custodial staff, removing seven librarians and increasing athletic fees as part of his plan to close a $4.2 million gap in the school district’s budget.

Murphy presented the preliminary budget plan to the School Board last night. Historically, the elected officials haven’t made major changes to budget proposals.

It was the most difficult budget he has prepared, and he doesn’t think it is the last, Murphy said Monday.

While the Legislature was applauded for raising teacher pay and benefits, the increases have hurt the school district because it must cover those increases –– $3.4 million –– for teachers not funded by the state. Lower enrollment is also hurting the district because fewer students mean fewer state dollars.

Federal Way isn’t alone. “I hear it from superintendents all across the area,” Murphy said. “They are doing the same thing.”

Also, the district has drawn on its reserve fund balance –– think of it as a savings account but not earning interest –– to help balance budgets in previous years and must be built back back up. That’s another $840,000.

Murphy’s budget is based on advice from the district’s principals and a budget advisory committee comprised of citizens and district employees. He asked the principals to recommend cuts that would have the least impact on student achievement. But he acknowledged the cuts might impact it, anyway.

Retirements and turnovers are expected to keep the district from handing teachers, counselors and librarians pink slips. The budget has 3.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions under consideration.

FTE is a bureaucratic term used to define a person who works full-time. It’s not a head count of who is affected. That number can be different because some employees work part-time or quarter-time. How many actual people will be reassigned –– or let go, as is the case of classified staff –– is unknown right now because the district needs to tally up all those who resign and retire, officials said.

However, certificated employees will have to deal with “involuntary transfers.” In other words, they might be librarians this year but will teach in classrooms next year. Or, a position vacated by a retiree or a moving educator won’t be filled.

Of the 34 librarians in the district, seven positions aren’t in the proposed budget. Murphy said those librarians will be in classrooms next year. Hours for library aides would be increased so libraries could stay open during school hours. The remaining librarians would cover five schools.

Classified staff –– maintenance workers, custodians and secretaries –– might not fare as well as certificated staff. Murphy said some of the seven FTE classified staff members being cut will lose their jobs because they don’t expect enough employees to retire or resign to free up space.

Not filling teacher retirements, cutting some classified employees and reducing some services are expected to save the district $800,000.

Having fewer librarians is expected to save $1.5 million. In past years, the librarians have been persuasive lobbyists. When the School Board learned two years ago that librarians closed libraries for parts of the school day because of budget cuts, the funding was restored.

Union presidents have already met with district officials about the proposed cuts, Murphy said. Who will be cut will be determined by language in the union contracts.

Three assistant high school principals would also be cut.

Increasing athletic fees, an annual debate, is back, but with a change to help low-income students. Murphy proposed increasing the high school fee from $70 to $120, except for students on the free and reduced-price lunch program. They would pay $50.

At middle schools, the fee would go up to $70 and $50 for free-and-reduced lunch students. It would mean another $100,000 in revenue.

Some services, like cutting the district’s print shop and cutting the lawns less frequently, are included in Murphy’s proposal. People may have to get used to some jobs not being finished as quickly as they had before, he said.

Other changes that seem on the way include:

• An $850,000 reduction for programs the district subsidizes, like busing. The state covers part of the district’s transportation costs. The district pays $2 million a year to keep buses on the road. Next year, routes will be consolidated and a large bus won’t be used if a smaller bus will do.

• The associated student bodies (ASB) at schools will have to pay the entire cost of transporting student-athletes to away games and matches.

• A reduction in the district’s English Language Learner (ELL) program: $725,000. According to Murphy, students coming into the program aren’t staying as long as they used to because they are testing out to regular classrooms faster. Consequently, fewer staff are needed and a combination of certificated and classified are under consideration for cutting.

• The student-to-teacher ratio at Truman High School, the district’s alternative high school, would change from 17 to 1 to 20 to 1.

Some programs in the district are paid for with federal dollars. An examination of those programs revealed the district could save $420,000 if the federal government started paying for aspects the district had been footing.

And half of the amount needed to bring the fund balance back in line would be paid this year and the other half next year.

“Unfortunately, it’s coming down to programs and people,” said Len Englund, a member of the district’s fiscal advisory committee.

The group has met since late-February to review the district’s income and expenses and recommend what to keep or cut.

Federal Way schools are run “pretty efficiently,” Englund noted.

And Murphy believes without “radical change” from the Legislature in how it funds education, the situation will get worse next year when it’s time to prepare the budget.

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

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