Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another budget, more issues . . .

The state senate released their budget yesterday summarized in this Seattle Times article. It takes a bigger chunk out of K-12 funding than the house version with some disturbing differences. Most of us understand the need for cuts, even though we may not want to live with them and fall back on the state constitution and successful NEWS lawsuit to warn legislators about further reductions. Well, they did it with the 2010-11 supplemental budget and now with the 2011-13 proposals.

I do not like the across the board cut of 3% to all staff salaries that the legislators know they cannot mandate. It is easy for them to identify the savings with this cut, but the problem has been transferred to the local level. They know that we must reach agreement with our local bargaining units to achieve these savings. Yes, they take away the revenue through the apportionment formula and now we must find how to save that money. I would prefer that they make the cuts they are able to enforce and/or change statutes to allow them to control the cuts that they suggest. Transferring the burden is not what we need. They don’t seem to realize the importance of relationship in our work and the impact on a system’s culture when they make these decisions a local problem.

Though the house budget froze teachers on the salary schedule for the two years of the biennium it may be something that is easier to process than an across the board cut to all salaries. It certainly narrows the scope of the problem for us. Another issue with this budget is the inclusion of an average daily attendance formula that reduces revenue when students are absent for unexcused reasons. Our costs don’t go down when students are not present, but this cut would result in lower revenue. The rationale is that this will force districts to pay closer attention to the truancy issue and increase graduation rates. Once again, we pay close attention to this issue and do not need the threat of revenue loss to monitor and implement strategies to keep kids in school. Unfortunately with this as with many other issues, we do not control all the variables such as families choosing to take vacations on school days.

Now we wait to see how the senate, house, and governor find some common ground for agreement. With only two weeks left it will be difficult to find this point of agreement. I want them to stay and discuss the issues and impact as opposed to deciding that getting out on time is the priority. These are difficult choices they are making and they deserve the kind of attention necessary to understand the short and long term consequences. This may only be possible by extending the session.

With all the changes, there is still little guidance on the impacts to individual districts of these proposed changes. I will share when we better understand how the individual cuts impact us and when we are more confident in the guidance we are being given.

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