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Legislature funding cuts add to SKSD budget woes

The South Kitsap School District has been able to close its budget deficit in recent years without laying off teachers.

But avoiding that scenario again might be difficult.

“We’re concerned about it,” SKSD deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner said. “We’ve been able to avoid it when many of our colleagues were not.”

Saturday, the state House and Senate passed legislation that is expected to close most of Washington’s $1.1-billion shortfall. The latest cuts — combined with previous ones by Gov. Christine Gregoire — are expected to reduce the deficit by around $700 million.

That encompasses a $50-million reduction from public schools, which includes the elimination of funding to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“What the Legislature forgot is we have contracts for class sizes,” said Terri Patton, SKSD assistant superintendent for business and support. “There’s nothing we can do (to change it) in the current year.”

Patton said she still is waiting for final details from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, but estimates that the state cuts will result in an immediate $3 million loss for the district.

Wagner said that particularly is difficult because it is the first time the state has made a retroactive reduction. In recent years, the state has reduced levy-equilization funding to property-poor school districts, such as SKSD, but those cuts were applied to the successive years.

“The retroactive nature of that is very concerning,” Wagner said. “We’ve never had money retracted in the middle of a school year. That’s tough.”

During an April presentation at a school-board meeting, Patton said SKSD had trimmed $12.5 million from its budget since 2005. SKSD’s budget is about $97 million.

“We’re going to have to cut deep,” Patton said. “We’ve been cutting for the last five or six years. We’ve been trying to protect jobs, but I don’t see how we’ll be able to do that.”

Patton stopped short of saying teachers will be cut as those changes have to occur through negotiations with the South Kitsap Education Association. But she said because of changes in the state budget, SKSD leaders will have to renegotiate with the unions. Wagner said a three-year contract between the district and SKEA was ratified before the school year.

SKSD certified human-resources specialist Charyl Wagner said the district has approximately 392 full-time equivalent classroom teachers, which does not include special-education teachers.

Kurt Wagner said the district already has left vacant some administrative openings. For example, he said, when Linda Munson, director of special programs, retired, her position was filled by Greg Albertson. But Albertson’s former position as assistant director of special education remained vacant.

Wagner said the contract between SKSD and SKEA mandates extra compensation for kindergarten through third-grade teachers who have more than 25 students in their classrooms. He said the average classroom for those grades is about 22 students with a general range of 17 to 27.

Unless the contract is renegotiated, Wagner said SKSD will have to look for reductions in other areas. For example, SKSD employees full-time certified librarians, while Wagner said several neighboring district do not. He said other areas that potentially could experience cuts include athletics and the arts.

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