Parents react to proposed school budget at public meeting - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Parents react to proposed school budget at public meeting

SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane Public Schools held its first of two public forums Tuesday night for community members to give their input on the 2009-2010 proposed budget.

Around 20 community members attended the forum at Chase Middle School, along with members of Spokane public schools staff.

Schools officials said they were disappointed by the small turnout, but the people who did attend did provide the district with feedback.

One middle school teacher was very concerned about the amount of teachers and programs being cut at the middle school level.

Another parent voiced concern that teachers were one of the first cuts made by the district.

Parents provided some of their own suggestions to balance the budget. Suggestions included cutting bus routes, cutting the number of lunch choices a student is given and being more selective about how often substitute teachers are used.

For the most part community members agreed that the school district is doing a good job, but the state needs to step up its part of the deal.

One man suggested everyone writing to the legislature and hold them accountable for providing public education to children in this state.

Another woman who attended the school board's work session last week said, "the schools are doing a lot to help with this challenge. We parents need to rise to the occasion and ensure that we send our children to school ready to learn, be good citizens, homework done, lunch packed, etc."

The school district will have another community forum Thursday at Glover Middle School at 7:00 p.m. Spokane Public schools is seeking parents' comments on what items to cut from the budget before it is finalized in the summer. You are invited to voice your opinions at the forums or email Communications Director Terren Roloff at terrenr@spokaneschools.org.

Those who attend the forums will be asked two questions:

What alternative reduction options would you recommend as budget cutting solutions, if funding is worse?

If funding is better, what programs would you recommend be restored or improved?

In an interview with KHQ Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Staci Vesneski announced 103 teachers received layoff notices.

The 103 teachers are part of a group of 193 Spokane Public Schools teachers that was told earlier this month that most of them will be laid off. Vesneski says the number of teachers receiving layoff notices Tuesday is less than expected.

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Vesneski says the district is hopeful that most of the teachers will be recalled for the 2009-2010 school year. Though an exact number was not available, Vesneski estimated the number is in the 80 to 90 percent range.

"My prediction is that the vast majority of the teachers will be recalled," Vesneski said.

The teachers that received layoff notices will finish the current school year before the layoffs become effective.

As with the layoffs, the rehire process will be based on seniority, reversed in the case, with the most senior teachers being rehired first. Vesneski added that in spite of the layoffs, quality instruction in the district will continue.

The teacher layoffs are a result of a $9 million budget shortfall in the District and an overall $9 billion state budget deficit.

Decreases in enrollment and state funding are being blamed for the budget shortfall. The state provides about 70 percent of the revenue for Washington schools. For Spokane Public Schools, that represents $211 million of next year's expected operating budget of $308 million.

Vesneski said that in addition to the teacher layoffs, the district is making cuts elsewhere. She said some vacant positions within the district are not being filled and other clerical positions are being cut. Vesneski noted that these cuts will impact the service to individual schools, rather than the schools directly.

Vesneski also pointed out that impending retirements will increase the number of teachers that could be recalled. When teachers retire this summer it will free some money for more rehires.

The district has been seeking parents' comments on what to fund and what to cut ahead of a budegt finalization expected this summer. Vesneski said many of the comments received from parents requested that certain teachers, who had made a positive impact on their child, not be laid off. The emails also centered around cuts being made in the central office rather than in schools.

Vesneski said that these budget decisions have been based on unknowns, with Stimulus funding being a large unknown factor. She said that schools will be receiving between $5 and $7 million is federal money, but there are restrictions on how that money can be spent. Right now, it appears that funding is limited to Special Education and Tier 1 students (students in poverty). The district is investigating the flexibility of the funds to see if they can be used for teachers. More information should become available in the next two weeks.

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