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Teachers, others react to board’s budget challenges
About 200 people — mostly teachers — voiced their concerns after the School Board presented the South Kitsap School District’s budget challenges for 2013-14.
Teachers who addressed the board during the April 24 public meeting shared their concerns about layoffs, pay, class size and the new superintendent’s contract.
Dr. Michelle Reid, who named as superintendent in February, was the focus of some district employees’ comments. Under her contract, she will receive $154,000 the upcoming school year.
Reid was in attendance during the meeting.
After the board’s presentation, each person was given three minutes to present questions.
One teacher asked why does Reid receive a raise over a four-year period.
“When was the last time teachers received a COLA (cost of living raise)?” she asked.
School Board member Kathryn Simpson said she’s looked at the district’s salaries and that the superintendent salary has been flat or declining over the past four years.
“Experience counts and that’s why teachers receive a salary bump for years of experience,” Simpson said. “Dr. Reid has 30 years of experience in K-12, a doctorate degree and is well vested in the quality we need in a superintendent.”
Teachers have 16 steps in their pay scale, Simpson noted.
Simpson said teachers deserve better salaries than the state allows the district to pay. “That battle is with the state, not the district,” she said.
Simpson said the district got the best candidate for superintendent.
East Port Orchard Elementary School teacher Carrie May said she was concerned about getting more students in the classroom, if the district cuts teachers.
Last year, State legislators eliminated I-728, the voter-approved measure that funded smaller class sizes for our state’s children.
School Board President Keith Garton, a teacher in the Peninsula School District, said he has more than 30 students in some of his classes.
“There is no question about it,” Garton said. “We need to reduce class sizes.”
He said the problem is the state and what they pay the district and think is a good class size.
Meg Bidwell Klein, a sixth-grade teacher at Mullenix Elementary, said she faces a dilemma between mentoring young teachers or improving herself as a teacher.
Klein said the school will suffer because good young teachers that aren’t able to work in the district will find jobs elsewhere.
“My plea to the Legislature is we need stable funding to support and keep excellent young teachers,” she said.
Ann Giantvalley, a 34-year veteran teacher, took Simpson to task on teacher’s salary increase.
She said the state cut teachers’ salary by 1.9 percent several years ago.
“I haven’t had a raise, I’ve lost money for the past three years,” Giantvalley stated. “I haven’t seen a salary bump in three or four years of teaching.”
Garton said the 1.9 percent decrease was state issued, not from the board.
“They (state) are talking about putting the 1.9 percent back into salaries,” Garton noted.
Board member Christopher Lemke said when a teacher reaches the top of the pay scale, there is no more step increases.
Erin Simon, a classified employee, said because of seniority she would probably won’t have a job next school year, but disagreed with the board’s contact with Reid.
Lemke said the superintendent’s salary is comparable to other school districts similar to South Kitsap.
Amy Frese, a special education teacher, at Sedgwick Junior High School, asked the board why they hired an assistant superintendent to become superintendent.
“Shame on you for going outside your budget when you knew this was coming,” said Frese.
Boardmember Greg Wall said the board isn’t making apologies for Reid’s salary.
“Some districts our size are paying over $200,000 a year for a superintendent,” Wall said.
Wall said the district is not trying to hide any money. “We have a real problem here,” he added. “We’ve put off dealing with it as long as we can.”
Garton said the superintendent issue seems to be a “straw man to throw bricks at.”
“If we paid the superintendent nothing, it would not make dent in the $2.5-million shortfall,” he explained.
Garton said the superintendent’s salary doesn’t help address the problem.
T. Michael Burch, a math teacher at Sedgwick Junior High, said he’s been teaching the district for 25 years.
“I remember when we had classes of 22 students and our math scores show it,” Burch said.
He said his class size has increased from 22 to more than 30 since I-728 was eliminated.
“I can’t guarantee you that I can continue to provide a quality education that will advance this community,” Burch said. “I’m dying.”
South Kitsap Education Association President Judy Arbogast said in the last five years, her association has lost 50 teachers through teachers not being replaced.
“We are taking a hit,” Arbogast said.
She asked the board about the announcement of RIFs made April 12.
“I’m wondering why this is a surprise to me and others union presidents,” Arbogast said. “I was floored to get the notice.”
Arbogast said students will get hurt in the process and the district can’t afford to lose 26 teachers as class sizes increase.
“We’ve made accomplishments despite our pay cut,” she added. “Teachers are dying from the workload and all those accomplishments takes hours and hours.”
Garton said the layoffs shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. “We’ve made it pretty clear,” he said. “Over the past several years as we’ve had to purposely cut funding to certain programs, we may not have replaced people who retired, etc. But we have tried to stay away from a RIF.”
Arbogast replied, “The numbers don’t match with the projected budget you present to the community.”
Simpson said it’s not a surprise because the board has been watching what has happened with state funding over the past several years. She said “we won the McCleary decision, but until state money comes through the district will have fiscal concerns.”
Simpson said she sent letters warning local legislators about the district executing the largest layoff in the district’s history.
“I know what we’re doing will hurt our students achievement goals,” she said. “It breaks my heart. I know how hard you work. I see it every day.”
Simpson said the district can’t deplete the reserves so we don’t meet payroll. “That is where we’re at,” she said. “It is what it is.”
Garton said the reserves is a “savings account” that it actively used during the year.
“If we draw out of the ‘savings account’ now, come August we won’t be able to write checks to pay bills,” he said. “That cushion is something that we have to have.”
School Board member Patty Henderson said the State Auditor’s Office has verbally reprimanded the district about low reserves.
“Some district set aside larger amounts such as 4 and 5 percent,” Henderson said.
Garton said the board felt a public meeting was necessary to inform the community about what’s facing the district next school year.
“I think the meeting went very well,” he said. “The information is the information and there’s no way around it. The numbers are there for everyone to see. It’s where we can’t afford certain things. It’s really a bad situation and we’re not happy with it at all.”
Garton said large budgets, such as a school district’s, are complicated.
Since last fall, the board has been working on the budget.
“We spend a year on the budget, before we every approve it,” he added. “The decisions we make are based on facts. We’re not just shooting from the hip.”
Simpson said the meeting gave people a chance to speak their minds, but they focused on the superintendent’s salary.
“I think they focused on an issue that is not as big an issue as they are making it out it be,” Simpson said.
Garton said if the district didn’t pay the superintendent it wouldn’t effect the budget shortfall.
Concerning the reserves, Simpson said people don’t deal with a budget day-to-day may not understand how the reserve fund operates.