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Mercer Island schools' budget deficit now $500,000

Now that the Washington state Legislature has adjourned and finalized the state budget, the Mercer Island School District, along with districts around the state, can begin answering questions it has held since last fall.

The biggest question was just how much money the district would lose in state funding for the upcoming year. The answer for Mercer Island this year: $500,000. The district, which was preparing for cuts ranging anywhere from $750,000 to $1.5 million, was relieved to see a smaller than expected number.

“This much more favorable number can be attributed to both the final legislative budget and the February 2010 levies approved by our community,” said the district on its Web site.

During last Thursday’s School Board meeting, the board heard a short presentation on the expenditure reduction plan and where cuts would be made. Essentially, the district is using the same plan as last year, which includes cutting six full-time equivalent positions (FTE). None of those positions were actually cut last year, as the money needed to fill the district’s budget gap was made up by donations from the Mercer Island School Foundation and the district’s PTA. The district hopes the same thing will happen this year, if enough money is donated.

“That money is not committed yet, so until that funding is available, we’re making reductions,” said Dean Mack, the district’s executive director of business services.

If the district doesn’t raise the money, the proposed cuts would remove 2.5 FTE positions from the elementary schools, 1.5 FTE from the middle school and 2 FTE from the high school to make up the $500,000.

“We’re saving every penny we can,” said Mack. “We’re in awfully unstable times.”

However, with the Mercer Island School Foundation breakfast on April 27 and the PTA Council’s Bridge the Gap campaign, the district hopes to fill in the deficit.

“Additional funds in excess of the $500,000 would be used to add more teachers and help begin to restore class-size averages to 2006-07, pre-recession levels,” said the district’s press release.

For more information on the district’s budget reduction plan, visit www.misd.k12.wa.us/news/districtnews/BudgetUpdate.html.

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