Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finally, some answers . . .

Yesterday, the legislators finally reached agreement on a budget that cuts about $1.8 billion from the maintenance level. Though that is a lot of lost revenue, in today’s economic environment it is not a surprise and it is what many people would expect. It certainly does not make our task any easier, but at the same time it must not diminish our resolve to support quality learning every day, in every classroom, for every child.

We need to separate our issues with this budget and the history of lawsuits over funding from the mental model that we bring to our jobs. Our parents send their children to school every day with the expectation that they will experience quality learning opportunities. Our students come to school every day needing learning environments that support the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes for current and future success. Our job is to provide this with fewer resources per student and in the face of salary reductions for many. Yes, an uphill battle, but one that we must win. We must maintain a focus on the classroom through our Classroom 10 initiative while we fight the necessary funding battle.

So, what did we learn about the budget? There were no big surprises; it was the packaging of the cuts from the proposed budgets that emerged from the lengthy negotiations between the senate, house, and governor. The big cuts that had been anticipated because they were taken away in this year’s supplemental include those below. The potential impact of these reductions on K-4 class size is significant.

• Suspension of I-728, class size reductions, for the biennium.
• Suspension of I-732, cost-of-living adjustment, for the biennium
• Eliminates funding for K-4 class size reduction for the biennium.

The compromising that took place is evident in the following salary reduction that was the big unknown until yesterday. As I have shared before, I do not like the perception that the legislators are “cutting” salaries because they can’t. What they are doing is reducing revenue in salary allocation formulas by 1.9% in each year of the biennium for teachers and classified staff and 3% for administrative staff. The burden now falls to the local level where each bargaining unit will meet with the district to determine how this revenue loss will impact salaries.

The legislators come off as being tough by cutting teacher salaries (see Seattle Times) while they are actually simply shifting the burden. The bills designed to support this reduction allowing for furloughs or reductions to days and hours are no longer part of the solution making the local decision that much more difficult. If passed, those bills would have resulted in additional lawsuits because they would have reduced the minimum program hour offerings in the basic education statutes. Knowing this, we would have been better off without the conversation and raising the expectation that this was possible. I believe that bargaining units would have been supportive of the furlough model as it would have placed public education in the spotlight and given more leverage for future deliberations at the state level on funding of schools.

I’ll stop now as the post is getting long and share more in my next post including the inequity in the salary reductions. I don’t believe that this budget helped the state’s appeal of last year’s funding lawsuit seen here in the Paramount Duty Coalition news release.

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