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District looks to trim budget

The Snoqualmie Valley School District is readying its plan to deal with an expected $3.5 million shortfall.

The district’s budget crisis has been compounded by Washington state’s budget deficit and slowed enrollment growth.

Roughly $1.5 million of the shortfall is a local deficit, and $2 million is the estimated reduction in state money caused by the state’s $9 billion deficit.

The state is expected to heavily cut education money from its budget. The state Senate majority leader’s chief of staff says 3,000 teachers and 3,000 college faculty could lose their jobs.

The first potential area for cutting costs will be non-employee related costs.

“Unfortunately, some reductions in staff may be unavoidable, since 82% of the district’s spending goes toward employee benefits and salaries,” said Joel Aune, the district superindentent.

“The goal is to keep the cuts as far away from what the kids feel in the classroom,” said Carolyn Malcolm, the district’s spokeswoman.

Respondents to a non-scientific survey conducted by the district identified class size, student services and instructional materials as the three highest priorities for spending. Around 900 people responded to the voluntary survey; 67 percent were parents and 21 percent were district employees.

Class size led by a wide margin among all respondents. District employees selected class size and student services as their top two priorities by a large margin.

Aune will present the district’s recommended cuts to the board on Thursday, April 2.

The district has to plan for two years of tight budgets, Aune said at a board meeting on Thursday, March 26.

The district might receive some federal stimulus money, but it is not being figured into the recommended cuts because of a lack of clarity about how much districts will receive and what strings will be attached.

The district has a projected $1.025 million unreserved and unrestricted current fund balance, around two percent of its revenue. Several district officials said they would like to keep this money in case of emergencies.

“Traditionally, this money is for a rainy day, and it’s raining,” Aune said.

The state’s budget reductions are expected to hit Initiative 728, which was passed by state voters in 2000 to reduce class size. State money for the program, which supports 31 teachers in the Valley, is expected to be cut by at least 25 percent or nearly eliminated. The district has enough money reserved for the program to pay for it through the next school year.

The budget crisis is the result of a “perfect storm” of increased state and federal requirements, increased student needs, increased community expectations, increased costs and decreasing local, state and federal revenue, according to Aune.

Unfunded and partially funded state and federal mandates cost the district up to $5 million each year. The district also has to pay for the ongoing operating costs of Twin Falls Middle School, which enrollment growth had been expected to pay for.

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