News

Fewer teachers and librarians likely

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Tom Murphy proposed cutting 27 librarians, leaving seven in the district, to save $1.49 million and help close a $4.2 million gap in the budget.

Murphy presented the preliminary budget to the School Board Tuesday night that included cuts in the teaching staff, classified personnel and programs. Historically, the School Board hasn't made major changes to the proposal.

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

The biggest change in dollars and employees is in the libraries. Of the 34 librarians in the district, 27 are not 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.

Murphy made the recommendation after talking to principals and asking them what could be cut from their schools and have the least impact on student achievement. It would save the district $1.49 million.

Librarians at the School Board meeting Tuesday night were not prepared for the recommendation.

"We had no idea," said Kimberly Rose, librarian at Star Lake Elementary.

The teacher's union claimed Murphy's recommendation violates their contract and has vowed to fight it. Murphy isn't blinking.

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

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.

Federal Way isn't alone.

"I hear it from superintendents all across the area," Murphy said. "They are doing the same thing".

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 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 certificated staff - i.e. 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 whether a person works full-time, part-time or even quarter-time with the district. It's not a head count of who is affected. That number can be different.

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.

Classified staff - maintenance workers, custodians and secretaries - might not fare as well as certificated staff.

Murphy said some of the seven FTE classified staff 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.

In past years, the librarians have been persuasive lobbyists. When the School Board learned two years ago librarians closed libraries for parts of the school day because of budget cuts, the funding was restored.

Rose said she would be calling parents about the news.

Union presidents have already met with the school district 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 lunch program. They would pay $50.

At middle schools the fee would go up to $70 and $30 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.

If passed, people would have to get used to some jobs not being finished as quickly as they had before, Murphy said.

An $850,000 reduction is proposed for programs the district subsidizes - like busing. While the state pays for part of the district's transportation costs it doesn't cover all of it. The district pays $2 million a year to keep buses on the road. Next year routes will get consolidated and a large bus won't be used if a smaller bus will do.

Additionally, the Associated Student Bodies will have to pay the entire cost of transporting athletes to away games and matches.

A big change is the 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.

Truman High School's student to teacher ratio 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, of the cuts.

The group has met since late February to look over the district's income and expenses and debate what to recommend to keep or cut.

Federal Way Public Schools is run "pretty efficiently," Englund noted.

And Murphy believes without "radical change" from the state 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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