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Federal Way schools lose $3 million in funding

After almost a monthlong special session, the Washington state Legislature has agreed upon a budget. The result is seen as a best case scenario for Federal Way schools.

That isn't to say it's really good news: The district will lose $3 million in funding next year. However, some of the proposed budgets had the district losing much more - up to almost $12 million in the governor's proposed budget.

"No reductions in education is acceptable," school board member Suzanne Smith said. "That we will again have to do more with less does not please (me)."

The $3 million reduction comes with several eliminations of funding, including the 181st day, which is used for teacher training, and I-728 funding, which helps with class sizes, among other things.

Sally McLean, chief financial officer of Federal Way schools, pointed out that I-728 passed only a few years ago in every county in the state, yet the legislators have already nixed it.

Another measure affecting the school district: The levy capacity statewide has been lifted 4 percent, something the school board has spoken out against in the past.

"This means Bellevue (school district) gets $250 more per student than we will as a result of this change," McLean said. "That would mean $5.1 million additional funding for our students."

Director Smith said the budget reminded her of the poster in "Animal Farm" that kept changing until eventually it read "Some animals are more equal than others."

Another area seeing a reduction is fourth grade staffing ratios, which will be decreased by 12 percent.

"I am amazed grade four staffing was reduced," Smith said. "Grade four is the year we test in elementary schools."

The state testing determines which schools are in compliance with No Child Left Behind. When schools do not make the standard several years in a row, they can face stiff consequences, as seen with schools across the state and county. Schools are having to fire principals and teachers or change the school model entirely.

Now that the state funding has been determined, the district can get back on track with producing its own budget. Superintendent Tom Murphy will be presenting his last budget at the next school board meeting on April 27.

There are still some impacts to the school district's budget to come. Federal funding has yet to be determined and there are some mandatory increases involving utilities and fuel as well as bargained increases with the teacher's union. Also, two recent changes made by the school board, including the "opt out not in" philosophy for advanced academic classes and the Standards Based Education, will require some additional funding to get the programs going.

After the presentation by Murphy, there will be time for public comment on the budget at the May 11 and May 25 meetings, and a public hearing on June 8. The board is expected to adopt the budget on June 22.

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