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Federal Way School Board eyes bottom line; one member suggests cutting sports

Being a better board and budget cuts were the topics of discussion at the Federal Way School Board's retreat on Thursday.

Budget cuts

Several school board members stated that they were concerned with keeping the "whole child" philosophy funded. Board member Tony Moore stated that he would be willing to look at cutting sports.

"Nobody wants to cut anything," Moore said. "But at the end of the day, I have to make ‘big boy’ decisions. Our needs are first to academics...the classroom is last and everything else is on the table...It doesn't mean they have to end, just the way we fund them."

Moore also noted that his opinion would get him in trouble with his basketball-playing son.

Other board members disagreed, saying that they would rather see a slightly larger class sizes than cutting programs that keep students interested and coming to school.

"You add two kids to a classroom, and I don't think it makes that much difference," board member Ed Barney said. "But it will to our bottom line."

Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean estimated that adding two students to each class would save the district about $4 million.

"I used to be really gung-ho on small classes, but it was just a perception," board member Amye Bronson-Doherty added. "I haven't seen any data to back that up."

"Our customers believe it does," Moore countered. "Thirty-two kids would make it more challenging, not less."

The board also has to decide how to spend its one-time funding — money that is not repeated year after year. The district's usual philosophy has been to spend one-time funding on one-time cost items. For example, new textbooks.

The board could direct the district to use some one-time funds to cover part of the $5 million to $8 million deficit the district faces next year.

The concern with that approach, McLean warned, is that if the economy doesn't turn around before the next budget cycle, then there will only be more cuts to make later.

Each board member was assigned to come to Tuesday's school board work study meeting with a "must not cut" list for Superintendent Tom Murphy to consider.

Better board

The board also learned about philosophies that make a better school board.

Bob Hughes and Rick Maloney, both former school board members, delivered a presentation based off of John Carver's book "Boards that Make A Difference."

Hughes is a former Lake Washington School Board member who helped spend $54,000 to learn about revamping his board to follow Carver's philosophy.

The presentation revolved around rethinking the way a board and superintendent work together, as well as the roles of each.

For example, in the plan set forth by Carver, the superintendent would make most of the decisions and have control over day-to-day activities. The board would set policy, but the superintendent would carry that out however he or she sees fit. The board would set limits or things that the superintendent could not specifically do. The board would more be a guide than a power horse. Anything within those limits would be up to the superintendent.

The board may have a weekend seminar on the topic.

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