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School funding cuts mean changes to class sizes, special programs

Decisions made in Olympia will force the Mercer Island School District to be even better stewards of the district’s funds.

“Over the next five months, a lot is going to change,” said Dean Mack, the district’s executive director of business services, at the Feb. 24 School Board meeting.

Almost $214,000 was taken from the district’s operating fund balance by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The cuts will directly affect kindergarten through fourth grade classes during this current academic year. Mack said that when the Legislature gave the district the K-4 funding, it was intended to keep K-4 class size small at each of the elementary schools.

“The Legislature changed their mind about the program to fund K-4, but we already spent the money to pay teachers; then they took the money back,” Mack said. “But we still have to pay the teachers.”

Money in the operating fund balance comes from four sources: full-day kindergarten tuition paid by parents, money raised by the various PTAs for para-professionals, money raised by the Mercer Island School Foundation and levy money.

Mack said for the 2011-2012 academic year, the district should anticipate losing about $366,000 in overall state funding, the possible elimination of gifted program funding — about $37,500 — in addition to no more federal stimulus money, which is set to disappear soon, to the tune of $436,000.

“We will anticipate inflationary problems,” Mack said.

Rising costs of fuel, utilities and the cost of goods and services could make the financial situation worse, he explained.

Looking ahead, the district expects about the same enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year, with staffing the same as the current academic year. The district might have to eliminate six and half staffing positions, either through retirements or layoffs.

Right now the Mercer Island Schools Foundation actually pays for 14-15 teacher’s salaries.

The foundation has just kicked off its annual funding campaign. Last year, anticipating state cuts, the campaign called “Bridge the Gap” raised $850,000. But with facing the loss of six teachers, the campaign goal this year is $1.2 million, which needs to be met by June 1. Foundation Executive Director Penny Yantis said the foundation is asking for $500 per student in a letter sent to parents.

The foundation’s annual “Breakfast of Champions,” established in 2004, will be held on April 26, from 7-8:30 a.m., at Mercer Island High School.

The breakfast is a community showcase event, an opportunity for folks to see what the foundation is all about, and what it has accomplished. The event usually draws about 500 attendees, who can donate whatever they are able to at the breakfast. The foundation is set up for donations to be matched by employers.

Currently before the Legislature is House Bill 1814, which will maintain the levy lid that voters passed already, and House Bill 1815, which would prevent the maintenance and operations levy from being reduced due to reductions in state and federal funding.

The Mercer Island Schools Foundation is working on ways to raise more money, and the “Bridge the Gap” committee will travel to Olympia on March 9 to meet with the three local legislators to express their concerns.

Summer school will go on as usual since it pays for itself. It is for grades K-8, by invitation.

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