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Schools face $1 to $2 million budget shortfall

The Mercer Island School District will likely have to cut between $1 and $2 million from next year’s budget.

During tomorrow night’s School Board meeting a preliminary reduction plan will be given to the School Board for review, including possible impacts to programs and staff.

“The fiscal impact from the state is likely to be between $1 to $2 million,” said Liz Ziara, the associate superintendent of business services. That number does not include any potential losses due to a drop in enrollment or account for levy dollars. The MISD annual budget is approximately $40 million. A loss of $1 or $2 million represents a 5 percent decrease for the overall budget.

According to the district, the Senate’s proposed budget would equal a loss of $1.9 million to MISD, while the House version reduces MISD’s state funding by $1.7 million. The largest loss in funding is from I-728, a reduction of $1 to $1.6 million.

Due to the cuts the district may be looking at the proposed math curriculum adoption different then it would in other years. As part of the revolving analysis, a committee has been reviewing and debating elementary math curriculum for the past year, and is preparing to make a recommendation to the School Board in the coming weeks. However, the ability of adopting a new curriculum will depend on if the district can spend approximately $200,000 to purchase and implement it.

Kathy Morrison, the associate superintendent of instructional services, said the district is moving forward with the process for adopting a new curriculum with the understanding that things could change. She said they have not had any conversations specifically about whether or not the funds would be available. It is possible the district would ask the Mercer Island Schools Foundation to help raise money for the new curriculum.

“We’ll be having those discussions in the future,” said Morrison.

Another option few have voiced to save money would be reducing the Mercer Island High School’s daily schedule from seven to six classes, or possibly even to five. Giving students options has long been a district goal, one not likely to change.

“It’s extremely costly to do, but it’s not being discussed as a possibility,” said Ziara of changing the high school schedule.

Other districts in the area are in the same boat as MISD. The Bellevue School District has said it is waiting for the final compromise budget from the House and Senate before determining exactly how much will be cut and if it means people will be laid off. The BSD has said, however, a cut in classified staff is likely, along with possible administration reductions. The Issaquah School District is preparing for cuts, saying because programs and service levels are already tight, those likely to be affected are the programs which lose state funding.

“The hurt is being spread pretty evenly,” Ziara said of districts around the state. She added a benefit for MISD is that they will not be impacted at all by levy equalization changes.

“We’re not a property poor district so we’re not impacted,” she said.

Ziara said the district will likely have a preliminary budget ready for the School Board’s review by June, hoping for adopting at the end of July or in early August.

While MISD continues to create plans the legislature is working to finish up.

Currently under consideration are bills like HB 2261 and SB 6048 which look to change the way education is defined and financed. Bill 1619 expands the things districts can spend the capital project funds money on, adding major equipment repair and other major preventative maintenance to the list of approved uses for levy dollars. Another is SHB 1776, which overwhelming passed the House and is waiting for a vote in the Senate. This bill would change the levy base for schools, allowing districts to collect larger amounts of money. Essentially, districts would be able to collect money that the schools would have otherwise received from the I-728 or I-732 funds.

Stowe Sprague, Mercer Island PTA vice president for legislation said passage of this bill is key for MISD, as the district gets 23 percent of it’s yearly funds from levies. She said if the bill fails the district would see a major cut in levy collection, up to $500,000. Those funds, like with other levy dollars, are delayed a year, meaning the district would not see a drop in collection amounts until 2010. Ziara said the district has no calculations on what SBH 1776s impact to Mercer Island would be.

The Washington Works Act, HB 2334, also affects schools. The act would put a referendum on the November ballot asking for approval to issue $3 billion in bonds. The program aims to help create jobs in the state, while also fixing schools.

If passed by both the voters and the legislature, districts across the state would earn two-thirds of $2 billion, with each district receiving money to go toward safety, health-related construction or energy efficiency measures. The measure has earned favor from senior legislators, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Superintendent Randy Dorn. According to the act, MISD would be eligible for $7.9 million from the act.

This story has been corrected from an earlier version.

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