School cuts could go deeper

As bad as Gov. Gary Locke’s proposed state budget looks for schools, it will probably get even worse, said Terri Patton, South Kitsap School District’s assistant superintendent for business.

“Historically, the governor’s proposal is a high-water mark,” Patton said. “That usually is the best scenario — the legislators’ cuts usually go deeper.”

Patton said she is waiting for numbers from the state’s Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction, due at the beginning of next year, which she said would give her a much clearer picture of what the budget will mean for the district.

“Locke’s proposal is just the first step,” Patton said. “He floats out the first ballon and people react. We’ll know a lot more in the next couple of weeks.”

Though Locke’s “ground-zero” approach pushed education to the top of the priorities heap, his budget proposed cutting more than $545 million dollars from public education, including not fully funding the class-size reduction mandated by Initiative 728, and suspending I-732, which provided cost of living pay raises for teachers.

Patton said she agreed with suspending the pay raises, and for the most part agreed with Locke’s proposal, calling it “fiscally responsible.”

“I admire his approach,” she said. “Freezing salaries is a prudent move. It makes sense to me, with people losing their jobs all across the state. Their salaries may not go up, but at least they’re keeping their jobs.”

However, Patton said, if I-732 is suspended, it could make reaching an agreement with the teachers’ union more difficult.

“It makes the tension harder,” she said. “We have to go to the bargaining table, and if our teachers will not accept no salary increases, we will either have to reach a settlement and shift monies from elsewhere, or if we can’t reach a settlement, the teachers may go on strike, or we have to have less teachers.”

Patton did note that a key piece was missing from Locke’s budget, however, which was increasing revenue.

“The only part that’s missing, as far as the school district is concerned, is the lack of a revenue increase,” Patton said. “There’s no tax increase for the long term, which is a little disappointing, because this is a long-term issue. But I know people want to get re-elected, and raising taxes is not popular.”

SKSD Superintendent Bev Cheney said she was slightly relieved with Locke’s proposed budget.

“It was better than I had anticipated,” said Cheney, who recently had been showing the public her “Stormy Weather” presentation which feared across-the-board cuts of 10-15 percent to the district’s budget.

“We thought we would lose all of I-728, so that’s positive, but we certainly won’t be able to make any enhancements,” Cheney said. “So it’s a glass half-empty, half-full sort of a feeling.”

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