School budget leaves some in 'complete shock'


The Mirror

Kimberly Rose wasn't expecting to hear 27 librarians might not be in Federal Way Public Schools next fall.

"That was a complete shock," Rose, the librarian at Star Lake Elementary School, said Tuesday night after superintendent Tom Murphy proposed cutting the number of librarians from 34 to seven next year to save $1.4 million and help stem a $4.2 million hole in the school district's budget.

Those seven librarians would each be in charge of five libraries. Aides would have their hours increased to keep the libraries open during the school day.

A report in Wednesday's print edition of the Mirror had an incorrect number of librarians being cut.

Sue Hislop, librarian at Wildwood Elementary School, said she and her peers received an e-mail from the district's human resources department asking for volunteers to remain as librarians. The deadline is Monday.

Hislop was surprised at the speed the district was moving and said the process needs to slow down.

"We need time to think," she said.

The teachers union vowed to fight the proposal, and the librarians have been persuasive lobbyists in past budget debates.

Murphy said the union contract allows for the cut.

It is one of many in the superintendent's budget proposal for 2006-07. The 27 librarians would be moved from the libraries to classrooms. Some teaching positions would also be cut but would be covered by retirements and resignations. Some of the classified staff cuts would result in people losing their jobs.

It was also proposed by Murphy that sports fees be increased for high school and middle school students.

The cuts, and deferring a partial payment on the district's savings to 2007-08, would balance the budget, according to Murphy.

"It is my hope people will see how difficult it was for us to make those decisions," said School Board member Evelyn Castellar.

When asked how he could justify cutting librarians when the district's slogan is "Every student a reader," Murphy said libraries are repositories for books and the prime deliverers of reading instruction are classroom teachers.

School principals advised Murphy they could do without most librarians after he asked them what cuts could be made that would least impact teachers and students. A citizens' advisory group reviewed the budget, and its members were split on the issue.

Hislop said she thought her principal didn't want to cut librarians. It felt like a "look out" warning to the librarian.

Rose said she heard rumors of cuts to the libraries but nothing on the magnitude Murphy presented formally during Tuesday's board meeting.

Rose argued libraries aren't quiet places where librarians shush people. She noted librarians know how to help students on research projects, select age-appropriate books and help teachers with technology. Most library aides don't have that kind of training, she said.

Rose added that having one librarian for five libraries would be ineffective because they wouldn't be able to accomplish tasks at a library in one day.

At a meeting Wednesday, several librarians asked how the district can justify starting new programs when it can't pay for existing ones.

Along with the cuts, Murphy proposed a new program at Federal Way High School similar to International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement. There is also an item to grow the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program to two more schools, create a K-8 (kindergarten-through-eighth-grade) school plan and add more personnel at high schools to help with guidance and testing of students.

Shannon Rasmussen, head of the local teachers union, and Murphy pointed to the teachers' contract to justify their opposing positions. The contract states a certificated librarian, or one working on their certificate, must supervise a library. To Rasmussen, that means the librarian must be there the entire school day.

Murphy countered that the contract doesn't speak in detail about how many hours the librarian must be in the school.

And the contract doesn't give the union sole control to determine how the library is staffed, according to Chuck Christensen, the district's human resources director.

Rasmussen said the union could file a grievance with the school district and go to arbitration. Murphy told the School Board he isn't afraid of a fight.

Castellar said Thursday it's correct to follow Murphy.

In past years, the district was able to fill budget shortfalls by taking a little here and a little there from programs and positions and tapping unreserved funds. Not any more.

"We have exhausted our possibility of peeling away," Murphy told the board Tuesday as principals, teachers, parents, librarians and district administrators filled the room.

Legislature blamed

For years, the district has faced budget gaps. Since 2001, it has seen $14 million in reductions. This time it's because the Legislature increased the salaries and benefits for teachers. But not all teachers in the school district are paid with state dollars, because the state uses an old formula to determine how many teachers a district needs based on student population.

Federal Way, along with most districts in the state, hires more teachers using local levy dollars. However, court rulings have declared all teachers get pay raises, so the district must come up with the money for the teachers it hires. This year, that means coming up with $3.4 million.

Murphy said if the state doesn't start doing more to help, will be presenting another budget with cuts in the millions of dollars for 2007-08 and will recommend closing schools for 2008-09.

Castellar expressed concern about the impact that would have on a building bond the board hopes to bring back to voters by the end of this year. The measure, totaling $245 million, was rejected by voters in February.

Rick Dennison, a teacher at Decatur High School, said Federal Way Public Academy should be cut from the budget to save the librarians.

"We can't afford it. It's a frill," Dennison said of the sixth-through-10th-grade school that has 300 students. "It's a frill as much as athletics is a frill."

Later, Murphy said the academy should remain open. "This program presents a valuable choice for our community and serves the needs of 300-plus students," he said.

A district document itemizing the 2004-05 costs to each middle school shows the district spent more than $1.2 million on the academy and about a third the cost of operating each middle school. That included salaries for educators and classified staff and the bulk of the operating cost.

None of the librarians or teaching positions districtwide that would be cut in the next budget would be removed from the payroll, but would be transferred to vacant teaching positions. "Involuntary transfer" is the terminology used by the district to describe those changes.

"When is the point we feel rage?" a clearly angry board member Tom Madden asked the audience at Tuesday's board meeting. "Now," several people replied.

Murphy placed blame for the budget shortfall this year and previous years on the Legislature. The state has refused to fully fund basic education, gives districts different dollar amounts to operate with, and the state's representatives and senators don't seem interested in changing the system, he said.

Madden urged citizens to contact the 30th District legislators –– Reps. Skip Priest and Mark Miloscia and Sen. Tracey Eide –– about the funding situation.

Priest, a Republican, said passage of the state budget repeated past mistakes for school districts like Federal Way's. It only widened the gap between districts and made it increasingly difficult for districts to make up the difference, he said.

He blamed Democrats, who are the majority party in the Legislature, and Governor Christine Gregoire, who also is a Democrat.

Miloscia and Eide, who are Democrats, couldn't be reached for comment.

Priest said the funding formula for teachers' and administrators' salaries isn't equitable. Gregoire formed the Washington Learns Commission to look at education at all levels in the state. Priest recently joined the K-12 committee and said the group is expected to have recommendations released in the new month. 7

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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