District mulls spending $2 million

"Although Initiative 728 passed by a greater margin here than any other initiative presented at last November's general election, South Kitsap School District administrators say the district could actually lose out if lawmakers follow through with proposed changes to school funding.The South Kitsap School Board met April 23 to discuss how the district might spend an expected $2 million, or $194 per student, in Initiative 728 money, how that money would coordinate with levy revenue and what the district might be faced with if the legislature this year eliminates funding provided by the Better Schools program and block grants.Initiative 728 will provide districts statewide with money restricted to programs that would reduce class size, expand learning opportunities, provide for staff training and to provide for facilities improvements or additions to implement those programs. I-728 money will come from state property taxes, unrestricted lottery proceeds and any surplus from the state emergency reserve fund.But, SK school district personnel said, if legislators cut Better Schools money and block grants, as the Senate and House recommend in separate legislation, the district could end up with reductions in other areas - and 728's restrictions.The House education budget would shrink the district's revenue by almost $1 million, including $208,000 in block grant money and $704,966 in Better Schools money. That's not chump change. That's like, 'Ouch,' said Sherrie Evans, the South Kitsap School District's assistant superintendent of personnel.The Senate budget hurts, too, she said, but not as bad. One's sort of a slice, the other's like big surgery, Evans said.Superintendent Bill Lahmann and school board members expressed frustration at legislators' perceived lack of concern for the spirit of Initiative 728. It's hard for me to understand when the initiative was real clear that this money was to be added on top of the money they're already getting, and this initiative passed by a greater number than any other initiative, Lahmann said.He presented preliminary I-728 numbers to the school board April 23, but emphasized that nothing is certain until the legislature adjourns for good. Staff recommended using $1.27 million of the $2 million to hire teachers to satisfy the I-728 requirement to reduce class size.Rather than simply reducing class sizes by one or two students across the board, Lahmann recommended the district use a targeted assistance strategy, in which teachers would be hired to teach certain areas of study, like reading or math, to catch struggling kids up to speed.The average fifth-grade teacher isn't going to feel a huge reduction in workload by having one or two less students to teach, Lahmann said. But, if you were to say to me we're going to take the two lowest kids out of class to work with them, that would probably have a greater impact than having one less student all year. Reducing class size by one student eats up a lot of teachers, he added. While levy funding will allow the district to restore 2.8 full-time-equivalent seventh- to ninth-grade teachers, I-728 funding will allow them to add three more on top of that, for a total of 5.8 full-time-equivalent teachers.That kind of hiring would reduce the class-size ratio from one teacher for every 31 students to one teacher for every 29 students. The district plans to restore two full-time equivalent 10th to 12th-grade teachers with levy money, but could include an additional three with I-728 money. Four additional teachers would reduce the class-size ratio from one teacher for every 32 students to one to 30.Initiative 728 money would allow the district to hire an additional six-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half full-time-equivalent fifth- and sixth-grade teachers, reducing the class-size ratio from one to 28 to one to 27 and one to 26, respectively.If lawmakers eliminate existing funding for teachers, the South Kitsap School District would use $566,500 of Initiative 728 funds to keep 10 designated Better Schools teachers, currently in grades Kindergarten through fourth grade. If lawmakers keep Better Schools and block grant funding intact, that $566,500 could be used for enhancing programs.Lahmann recommended the district spend about $356,650 of the $2 million on extended learning opportunities for the district. Though staff are not yet able to say which programs each school might want to implement, they recommended extracurricular activities like homework and math clubs, Saturday school, enhanced summer school and tutoring. Costs projected for each activity would include bus transportation, food service, stipends and coordination.The final $442,779 of the $2 million could be spent on staff development and training programs for educators. Board member Mike Davis suggested when the district gets closer to approving a budget, staff might want to break down how money will be spent for training rather than leaving the number in one lump sum. People want to see how it's a better use of money than enrichment programs, he said.Lahmann added demonstrating the educational value of teacher training can be a challenge. We'll have to show the community how spending the $442,000 (on training) impacted student learning, he said. That can be hard to do sometimes.The board won't sit down to pass a budget until August, but the district was required to hold a public forum on how to spend Initiative 728 funds before May 1.Despite Lahmann's presentation, board members won't have any solid information until lawmakers clock out for the year, leaving them grasping at estimates until they know more. There are so many unanswered questions; until the legislature adjourns, we won't know a dollar amount, whether it's really $194 per student, (or) whether the Better Schools and block grant money is available, Lahmann said. I recommend you don't even guesstimate until the legislature adjourns. "

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