Statewide cuts may negate school levy gains

South Kitsap School District officials are warning the public that predicted state budget cuts could negate all gains from levy funds, and they are asking for help in preventing this scenario.

In a presentation titled “Stormy Weather,” SKSD Superindentent Bev Cheney last week outlined what she described as the “storm clouds” destined to hit the state’s — and, consequently, the district’s — budget.

“We decided it would be the responsible the thing to do to update our stakeholders on the status of the state and public education,” Cheney said.

The state, Cheney said, faced a $1.5 billion deficit for the 2002-03 fiscal year. The gap was filled with one-time fixes, Cheney said, and now the full force of the state’s increased spending and decreased revenue will be felt in 2003.

“We looked to the state’s budget, and we saw some impacts,” Cheney said. “Because we depend on the state for most of our resources, we know that we will more than likely be impacted.”

Nearly three-fourths of the district’s budget, 73 percent, comes from the state, while only 9 percent comes from federal dollars, and currently 14 to 18 percent comes from levy funds.

The current predictions for cuts in school funding hover around 10 to 15 percent, Cheney said, which could easily equal the amount the school receives from its current 4-year levy.

“Basically, this could possibly negate the levy,” Cheney said.

If this happens, South Kitsap School Board member Jim Huff said, the school could return to “bare bones.”

“The schools would look again like we did before the levy,” Huff said, “having to close fields, raise fees and other measures, even though we have a levy in place.”

Huff said if that happens, it would be like starting over at square one.

“That’s what’s really gotten me upset,” Huff said. “The people trusted us and they wanted us to have a four-year levy. This could make all the effort and all that trust and support go away.”

The good news, Huff said, is that the school district was being proactive. Cheney and Cheryl Bond, president of the South Kitsap Education Association, the local teachers’ union, along with other local school and education officials, were planning to join the statewide “Day of Education” for Jan. 14, 2003.

Bond said the district’s faculty and employees were inviting parents, students and other community members to join them in a march at the state’s capital in Olympia. Their goal, she said, was to remind the legislature of its duty to provide the state’s children with a solid education.

She said the Washington Education Association chose Jan. 14 to make this statement because it is the second day of the state’s 2003 legislative session, and also when Gov. Gary Locke is scheduled to deliver his “State-of-the-State” address.

Bond and the others involved hope their presence will help inspire the legislators to continue full funding of Inititatives 732 and 728, provide fair and competitive compensation for all school employees and to commit to an ongoing investment in public education.

Huff said the “Day of Education” would send a powerful, much-needed message to the government.

“It will say to the Legislature, ‘Look, you’ve obligations here, don’t cut money from education,’” Huff said. “I don’t totally blame the Legislature, but that doesn’t mean education should suffer. When you cut out a chunk of dough, then you’ve got a class of kids that didn’t have all the opportunities they could have had, and that has far-reaching impact for years to come.”

Huff said no matter what the outcome of the day, it is better to have done something than nothing.

“You’ve got to say something,” Huff said. “If you just sit there and let it happen, then it’s too late to go back. It’s better to be on the front end of things and maybe forestall a crisis. Any percentage of funding we can keep and not have them cut, that’s a good thing.”

To participate in the day, the SKEA and the school board would need to reach an agreement to allow employees to take the day off of work, joining several other school districts statewide. If an agreement is reached and approved by the school board on Dec. 2 as planned, the day would be treated like a snow day, a instructional day that will be made up later in the year.

Cheney and Bond have prepared a presentation designed to inform the public of their plans, but also to gather ideas and rally support from the community as well. They will show the presentations to all interested parties this Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at Sidney Glen Elementary School in Port Orchard, but said they would be willing to show it to other groups at other locations if requested.

For more information, contact Aimee Warthen at the school district at 874-7002.

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