Modest elementary class size increase coming to Lake Washington School District, but no layoffs amid state cuts

Lake Washington School District's 2011-12 proposed budget is taking shape amid recent state cuts, according to a presentation during the district's June 20 meeting.

Lake Washington School District

Kindergarten through fourth-grade class sizes and staff compensation at Lake Washington School District (LWSD) are the two areas that will be affected by state cuts for the district’s 2011-12 budget.

Business services coordinator Barbara Posthumus, who presented the proposed budget to school board members Monday evening, said the district plans to make up the $4.6 million shortfall by using levy funds and making small reductions in staff at the K-4 level.

The good news is that the LWSD will avoid having to make any teacher layoffs as the staff reduction will be done through attrition, but the bad news is that K-4 class size will increase slightly.

According to a LWSD press release, student-teacher ratios at the K-4 level will increase by about one student per class. Kindergarten and first-grade staffing will change from 19-to-1 to 20-to-1; second- and third-grades will shift from 23.9-to-1 to 25-to-1; and fourth-grade will go from 25.12-to-1 to 26.75-to-1.

The release states that class size increases will result in eliminating about 17 to 18 teaching positions, through attrition “as more than that number of teachers retired or resigned at the end of this school year so the positions will simply remain unfilled.”

Posthumus said in preparing the budget, one of her team’s goals was to avoid layoffs — something the district has avoided even as the state continues to cut education funding.

“We have a history in this district of good financial planning,” she said. “No one wants to (have layoffs).”

Since 2009, state cuts to maintain small K-4 classes amounts to more than $13 million — $2.6 million of which are for the 2011-12 budget, which will be voted on at the Aug. 8 board meeting and go into effect Sept. 1.

To minimize cuts to the classroom and avoid teacher layoffs, LWSD has also been making up the difference by reallocating levy funds and making budget cuts in other areas.

“The bottom line is that local levy dollars are filling in the holes the state has dug,” superintendent Chip Kimball said in the LWSD release. “For 2011-12, levy money will continue to take care of most of the cuts to K-4 class size enhancements. Even with those efforts, we will have a small adjustment in K-4 class sizes.”

During Monday’s meeting, board president Jackie Pendergrass acknowledged that school levies were originally created to enhance and enrich the classroom experience, not cover basic expenses such as programs and salary.

Board member Nancy Bernard added that while the district hasn’t had any layoffs, sacrifices have been made. For example, students now have to pay fees to participate in various activities, including a King County-high $275 athletic fee per sport per child.

The state has also reduced funding for district staff compensation — which includes teachers, instruction assistants, bus drivers, custodians and office personnel — by $2 million. Pension rates have gone up as well, which will further reduce staff paychecks. The LWSD release states that the district “has made proposals to unions whose contracts are open or have a reopen clause and to other staff groups to maintain compensation levels through some additional work days.”

Those “additional work days” would include time devoted to preparing for the grade reconfiguration coming in fall 2012, which will bring the district to a K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 system.

“An unprecedented number of students and staff members will be changing schools in the fall of 2012,” Kimball said. “These extra days would be a great help in making sure this transition is as smooth as possible for our students and their families.”

On top of cuts Posthumus said some of the district’s fixed costs such as insurance and fuel have increased for an addition of $400,000 in expenses.

In addition to dealing with cuts, another challenge Posthumus and her team faced in preparing the budget was receiving the numbers from the state so late. She said they received the budget from the state on May 24. Normally, they would receive it in April.

“This is one of the latest budgets I can recall,” said Posthumus, who has been in the district’s budget office for 21 years.

She added that the shortened timeframe is a challenge because they have less time to make decisions, but she and her team work on the budget throughout the year — constantly reviewing the numbers in enrollment and staff, along with monitoring the budget.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at the Aug. 8 school board meeting at 7 p.m. at the district office at 16250 NE 74th St. in Redmond, where the board will also vote to adopt the budget. Comments on the $231.3 million general fund budget may be sent to the school board at board@lwsd.org.

 

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