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School district to fare better than most with funding cuts

Superintendent of the Mercer Island School District, Gary Plano, said there will not be any teachers laid off in the district, despite the budget crisis in Olympia.

Teachers are given a notice of reasonable assurance that they’re coming back to work in the fall, he said.

“Most of our classified staff, teachers, get a notice of probable assurance that they’re coming back next year. We did not have to give anybody a notice of adverse action,” Plano said.

A notice of adverse action is required by law to be given to employees with continuing contracts. Plano compared a notice of adverse action to a “pink slip.”

However, some employees are on one-year contracts, replacing employees who are on a leave of absence, such as maternity leave. Those employees will have to re-apply for any employment openings with the Mercer Island School District.

“With retirements, resignations and those employees on leave, there’s enough flexibility in the system that I didn’t have to issue any notices of adverse action,” he said.

In the event that the Mercer Island Schools Foundation “Bridge the Gap” campaign, which ends on Friday, does not meet its goal of $1.2 million, it is possible that class sizes will go up slightly across all grades, Plano said. Although the legislature eliminated the K-4 enhancement, that doesn’t mean that the district can’t keep K-4 class size smaller than grades 5-12.

“The research shows that keeping primary classes low benefits learning, benefits instruction,” Plano said. “It’s my desire to keep those early grades [class size] low.”

The $894,793 already raised by the foundation is what is keeping class sizes from escalating into the stratosphere, Plano said.

Negotiations are underway with teachers — all salaries are subject to reduction. This applies to administrators as well. The legislature reduced funding for salaries by 1.9 percent for certified and classified staff and 3 percent for certified administrators.

So what will the 2011-2012 academic year look like? Plano said everything is pointing to a normal year. The plan is for school to start Aug. 31, with class sizes potentially the lowest in Puget Sound.

Once again, the schools foundation will have its phone-a-thon in October, with the goal this year set at $430,000.

“We’re planning a budget around that pledge, that is similar to what the pledge was last year,” Plano said.

The $430,000 will be used for textbooks, professional materials and instruments.

Also, it helps that the district will be able to collect from the $11 million levy that passed in February 2010.

“That’s part of why we’re not hurting as badly as some districts, because we went to the voters, and the voters said yes to the higher amount,” Plano said of the levy.

A slightly higher enrollment (about 70) in the fall will also generate revenue.

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