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School district faces budget cuts

Although the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction boasts of the increased funding directed at education, the South Kitsap School District is facing possible cutbacks amounting to $500,000.

The state budget offers a number of increases -- most notably for teachers' salaries and benefits -- but each funding increase can lead to more expenses on the district level, said District Superintendent Bev Cheney.

The budget cut estimate only reflects a possible outcome, and South Kitsap School District Assistant Superintendent Terri Patton said that the district's future budget changes every day.

The $500,000 figure is down from estimates a week earlier, when Patton was preparing for $1 million in cuts.

In the coming month, South Kitsap administration will wait for the Gov. Christine Gregoire's signature on the budget -- along with any vetoes.

The governor's office said Gregoire would sign the education budget and WASL legislation by May 15.

"Bottom line -- we really won't know, until the governor signs, the positive or negative impacts," Cheney said, adding that the education department releases contact information for grants at the end of May. "We won't know the full implications until after May 31."

The Legislature did raise overall funds, but many are dependent on certain factors, such as the number students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.

Cheney said South Kitsap will not likely see many of those funds.

The Legislature approved a 4.3 percent pay increase for cost-of-living adjustments. The district already has annual cost-of-living adjustments, around 3 percent, and will need to adjust the budget for the 1.3 increase.

Required retirement pensions will increase from 4.54 percent to 5.84 percent in the 2007-08 school year to 8.4 in the 2008-09 school year.

The pay increases come with funding, but pose budget problems for individual districts. The state will provide funding for state employees, which includes most teachers.

However, South Kitsap School District employs around 30 teachers through levies and more than 40 teachers and staff through Initiative 728 funds.

The district will need to increase the pay for these teachers out of a local budget.

The district and teachers have a negotiated contract, and the district cannot simply increase the pay and pension of state-funded teachers and not levied teachers.

The budget cuts mark an ongoing problem with state funds, Cheney noted.

For example, the district receives state funding through Initiative 728, but that funding in large part funds teacher salaries where state funds have failed.

I-728 funds were meant to enhance education by lowering class size and offering other programs in public schools. But in the South Kitsap School District, those funds merely keep the class size from going up, rather than bringing it down.

"Because of funding issues at the state level," Cheney said, "we're having to utilize those funds not for enhancement, but maintaining our basic education standards."

Cheney said there is some good news in the budget items. The Legislature raised funds for the Promoting Academic Success (PAS) program by $5.3 million and broadened the receiving student population to Juniors and Seniors. The program is meant for extra programs dedicated to assisting struggling students to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

Previously the program only applied to juniors who failed the WASL.

For now, the district waits to find out which funds will be approved, and which ones will apply to the South Kitsap School District.

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