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School District braces for budget news

Until the end of the month, the Mercer Island School District will not have a clear idea of how the economy is going to affect the school funds next year, but that has not stopped the district from planning for every possible scenario.

Associate Superintendent of Business Services Liz Ziara predicted that MISD’s cuts could be anywhere between $1.2 million and $4 million next year. She stressed that there are a lot of unknowns, but this gives district officials a starting point to feel out where things might be heading.

Based on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget, Ziara said the district is likely to see a reduction in student achievement program money, around $368,000; the suspension of I-732 dollars, reducing the levy base percentage increase by $323,000; $70,000 for math and science professional development and adjustments to the basic education entitlement funds estimated around $400,000. According to Ziara, if this was exactly the way it played out, the district would see a $1.167 million cut.

However, the House and Senate budgets are not finished, and the economic picture has worsened since Gregoire’s last budget was released. Unknowns facing the district include whether or not I-732 will be completely cut, the final levy base adjustments, professional staff days, enrollment projections, money from the federal stimulus package and the outcome of the district’s collective bargaining agreements.

The next state revenue forecast is expected to be released on March 19, with the House and Senate budgets sometime during the week of March 23. Once the district has seen those documents, it will have a better idea of what to expect and how to begin planning the 2009-2010 budget.

The district is also expecting to see a slight decline in enrollment, according to Ziara, predicted to be largely at the elementary and middle school level, with a slight bump in the number of students at the high school. The impact could mean a loss of around $350,000 next year, adding to the other budgetary repercussions.

“Not a lot of good news right now,” Ziara told School Board members at last week’s meeting. “We can probably assume the governor’s budget to be the best-case scenario.”

Ziara said that based on the predications, enrollment could be around 3,842.5 FTE. But this number is likely to change.

“We expect the final number to be different, but that’s a starting point,” said Ziara.

District Superintendent Gary Plano said that he and the district’s administrative team discussed allowing school leaders to outline where budget cuts at their school could and should be, rather than having the decisions completely lie with the central administration.

“We would like principals to help us make school-based decisions,” said Plano. Those possibilities, while highly contingent on the amount of money that the district needs to cut, will be looked at over several weeks by the different schools.

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