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FW school district forges ahead despite state budget gridlock

The gridlock in Olympia may still have some significant impact on Federal Way Public Schools.

FWPS assistant superintendent of business services Sally McLean briefed the school board at its June 11 meeting. It was the district's first public hearing for the proposed 2013-14 budget.

June 30 is the end of the state's current biennial budget.

"As of July 1, if there's no state budget adopted, there's no authority for the state to spend funds," McLean said. "So we find ourselves in this interesting dilemma where we are planning for the McCleary 'down payment' for 2013-14, but without a state budget adopted, we will need to borrow money effective Aug. 1 to meet our 2012-13 obligations."

"So, make your phone calls," she added wryly.

Even with that uncertainty, McLean said the district will have a plan in place, budget-wise, for 2013-14.

"While the Legislature has not completed their work," McLean said, "we still need to move forward on what we think is reasonable."

Restoring jobs

One member of the public, Gary Robertson, shared his thoughts on the proposed budget. Robertson said he hopes that some of the anticipated bumps in revenue would be put toward rehiring people who lost positions in the past few years.

"I must ask you the $64,000 question, which is, what is your number one priority when it comes to funding?" Robertson asked. "Is it funding student fees and athletic transportation, or is it funding programs that will ensure our students are successful as they go through our education system? For me, it's the latter, and if you agree, as I hope you do, then I ask you to give serious consideration to my recommendation."

Robertson's recommendation would be to restore a number of paraeducator and librarian positions that have been cut in recent years. Robertson, a substitute paraeducator himself, said the help his position provides to students and staff is invaluable.

"These individuals are much more critical to our students than restoring funding to fees and athletics transportation," Robertson said. "I've worked in these positions, so I know how valuable they are to all-day kindergarten teachers and students."

The district's proposed budget, at this time, restores elementary school counselor positions, along with a number of custodial positions that were cut in recent years. McLean touched on the district's philosophy when it comes to restorations and/or enhancements when there's more money in the coffers, saying that any restorations and/or enhancements must be "affordable and sustainable."

"That's been a part of the district's guiding principles around budget development for over a decade now," she said.

Other funds

McLean spent a brief time on the other funds the FWPS board approves when it adopts a budget: The Transportation Vehicle Fund, the Associated Student Body Fund, the Debt Service Fund, and the Capital Projects Fund.

The Transportation Vehicle Fund is in "good health," according to McLean. The ASB fund has a lower level of expenditures than in previous years, something McLean attributes to the fact that "fundraising is getting harder and harder for students to do."

For the debt service fund, McLean said the district continues to "look for opportunities to refinance any outstanding bonds to save our taxpayers money."

Finally, for the capital project fund, McLean said that some of that money will go toward some of the additional projects that were authorized with the vote to rebuild Federal Way High School. A number of school playgrounds will undergo a facelift over the course of this summer, while the district's security systems, McLean hopes, will be revamped throughout next school year.

The board is expected to vote on the budget at its June 25 meeting.

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