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Board approves leaner budget for Federal Way schools

The Federal Way School Board unanimously approved a $207.3 million general fund budget Tuesday night for the 2009-2010 school year.

In addition, the board approved several smaller budgets, the Associated Student Body fund of $4.3 million, the debt service fund of $22.6 million, the Capital Projects fund of $69 million and the Transportation Vehicle Fund of just under $1.2 million.

The budget year was a tough year for the school as state funding dropped $12 million. The district was able to offset some of these losses by using local levies, I-728 funds and other sources to bring the net loss down to $6.9 million. That $6.9 million was then balanced through staff reductions and a lower pension contribution as ordered by the state.

The district, along with all school districts, was also the beneficiary of some federal stimulus funding, to the tune of $8.7 million. However, most of this funding is very specific in its purpose, with dozens of strings attached, and is a one-time only fix.

Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean said she read the rules very carefully on the stimulus funding, several times.

"We are assuming the way we plan to spend it is within the guidelines," McLean said. "The economic stimulus related to special education is the most complex piece of legislation I have seen in my 20 years. We spent over 20 hours determining how we could spend it."

In addition, much of the stimulus funding for education is further complicated by state laws, which are very strict on special funding and what it can be used for.

The district was forced to cut teaching positions, however. By not replacing retiring or leaving teachers and moving some positions around, the district only sent layoff notices to 10 teachers.

The district's upfront attitude and lack of cuts has won praise throughout the process. Surrounding school districts such as Puyallup, Bethel and Seattle have received harsh criticism this year for their process, which in some cases announced layoffs of large numbers of teachers.

There were no public comments at the final public hearing on the matter Tuesday, something school board president Suzanne Smith thought was telling.

"It's nice to not have a board room full of angry opinions," Smith said.

Budget breakdown

This year's budget is down $2 million from last year's. At $207.3 million, the vast majority of expenses relates to people. About $97.6 million goes toward certificated staff salaries, another $35.1 million goes for classified salaries and $42.6 million goes for benefits. All of these areas were down from last year, about $6 million. The non-employee related costs, or the everyday costs to keep the buildings, offices and textbooks coming, was $32 million this year, up about $4 million. Most of that is due to an upcoming election year where the district will need to go out for a new tech levy along with an increase in utilities costs. Some of that is also from one-time purchases made possible by the economic stimulus funding.

Looking ahead

District officials have already begun expressing concerns for next year.

Although this year the school district did receive quite a bit of funding from the federal stimulus, those same funds will not be available next year. If the state funding doesn't increase, the school district will be definitely hurting.

"Those things worry me," Superintendent Tom Murphy said. "But the work that goes on in our district is outstanding. I am worried about the inability of our state to tackle these issues head on. In the absence of our state clearly addressing these issues, next year I fear we could be facing tragic budget circumstances."

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